Activists insist on fair trial, AU keeps mum
By Tony Opara
Echoes of the 1994 genocide have recurred in Rwanda as the prosecutors move to open up the trial of the blogger, Joseph Nkusi.
A Rwandan who has allegedly sharply criticized his national government, made ‘false and inflammatory claims about the 1994 genocide, and founded a radical opposition group’ while living in exile in Norway. Now he is slated to go on trial in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where he faces charges of genocide ideology, sectarianism, and inciting insurrection or trouble amongst the population.
Nkusi’s trial is an opportunity for Rwanda to show that it clearly distinguishes between “genocide ideology” – a criminal offense in Rwandan law – and free speech, or the freedom to criticize the government or the ruling party.
Nkusi lived in Norway between 2009 and 2016. Norwegian authorities rejected his asylum claim, citing a lack of evidence of a risk of persecution in Rwanda. Nkusi was then deported, arriving back in Kigali on October 8, 2016. Rwandan authorities immediately arrested him and questioned him about his writings and political activities. He has been held at Kimironko prison since his return.
Some of the writings on Nkusi’s blog relay claims about the genocide that are unfounded – stating, for example, that both Hutus and Tutsis were targeted in a “double genocide.” This is offensive to genocide survivors, and contrary to research findings by Human Rights Watch and other independent organizations. Other writings criticize the Rwandan government’s human rights record.
Human Rights Watch has observed a number of trials in which charges of genocide ideology and inciting insurrection were used to prosecute people who criticized the government. Fair trial standards were flouted in many of these sensitive political cases, despite recent reforms to the Rwandan justice system.
Rwandan law defines genocide ideology as a deliberate, public act to show that a person is characterized by an ethnic, religious, national or racial nature, with the aim to advocate for the commission of genocide, or to support genocide. The legal framework has improved, but retains language that could be used to criminalize free speech.
While some of his writings are reprehensible, the Rwandan authorities are being prevailed upon by the international human rights community to ensure that Joseph Nkusi gets a fair trial and is not prosecuted nor convicted for criticism of the government or the ruling party. International actors, including the government of Norway, for example have been enjoined to closely monitor the trial proceedings and be prepared to publicly denounce any breaches of fair trial standards or violation of free speech.
No word has been heard on the trial from the secretariat of the African Union, AU.
Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda