I. Introduction

One of the most important tasks of the Opposition is to scrutinise the work of the government constantly in order to make it accountable to the public. It helps put the spotlight on issues of national interest and to put pressure on the government in power to address them quickly.

However, the ruling RPF party in Rwanda has put in place legal and policy frameworks that criminalise political dissent and hence rules out genuine political Opposition. The framework includes cumbersome administrative procedures that make it hard if not impossible for genuine opposition political parties to register and hence force them to fall foul of the law  relating to “organising illegal  meetings, illegally forming or leading a political organization”.

The Rwandan constitution enshrines freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly in its articles 38, 39 and 40. The same constitution in its article 54 recognizes the multiparty system. Consequently, the law governing the political parties in Rwanda was put in place.

Sadly though, RPF regime has put in place other laws which are in conflict with the Constitution and the law n° 005/2018 governing the political parties. We bring into prominence some of them.

II. Key laws that limit freedom of expression and association

II.1.  Law Nº68/2018 of 30/08/2018   Law determining offences and penalties in general (penal code)

This is a Rwandan penal Code. This law is in conflict with the Constitution in its various articles notably:

Article 194: Spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against Rwandan Government.

According to this article, any information that contradicts the government narrative can be referred as false information or harmful propaganda.

Article 202: Offence against the ruling power or the President of the Republic

This means that any position which is not in line with the government policies or with the President’s speech opinion can be interpreted as  a criminal act aiming to destabilize the RPF regime

Article 203: Conspiracy against the established Government or the President of the Republic

According to this article, any action condemning the government for its failure regarding all aspect can be punished under this article

Article 204: Causing uprising or unrest among the population ; Any person who publicly, either by a speech, writings of any kind, images or any symbols, whether displayed, distributed, purchased or sold or published in any manner, incites the population to reject the established Government.

This article forbids people, especially political leaders to express or transmit publicly their own political programs which are not naturally in line with government ones.

Article 225: Illegal demonstrations on a public place or public meetings: Any person who illegally holds a demonstration or a meeting or who demonstrates on a public place without prior authorization, commits an offence. The demonstration referred to under Paragraph One of this Article is any act of a group of people gathered in a public place with intent to demonstrate their feelings or opinion by speeches, actions or shouting. A public meeting means a gathering open for the public or in which the public is invited . This article is clearly in conflict with the law governing political parties.
According to the law governing the political organizations, especially its article 19 stipulates that political organization who wish to hold a public meeting of its members shall inform the relevant administrative authorities and that the article 20 stipulates that to organise demonstrations must inform and seek the authorization of the relevant administrative authorities (all are ruling party members) at least five days before the event.

The Penal Code article 225 stipulates that you need authorization to hold a meeting or a demonstrations.  Such legal framework is contrary to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. It is not conducive to a free and unhindered exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.                                                                                                                                                                                               Only prior notification should be enough to allow the Police to take measures to protect public safety and order and the rights and freedoms of others. The Human Rights Council also makes it clear that “everyone must be able to express their grievances or aspirations in a peaceful manner, including through public protests without fear of reprisals or of being intimidated, harassed, injured… arbitrarily arrested [and]detained…”. These recommendations have never been respected by the Rwanda government as it is clear from the Universal Periodic Review on the human rights situation in Rwanda (March 2016).

While the ruling party’s sponsored protests and demonstrations take place without any hindrance, for example protests against the arrest of Rose Kabuye in Germany and against BBC documentary “Untold Story”, any semblance of protest against government policy as simple as writing a petition, is dealt with heavy-handed measures. For example:

  • Supporters of Mrs. Ingabire Umuhoza were beaten up and thrown into jail because they wore badges with the inscriptions “Democracy and justice” and “free Ingabire”. They included Mr. Sylvain Sibomana, Secretary General of the opposition Unified Democratic Forces FDU-Inkingi and Mr. Dominique Shyirambere, the representative of the Social Party Imberakuri in the district of Kicukiro. Both men were charged with contempt of public officials, illegal demonstration and inciting insurrection and public disorder.
  • 20 students were also arrested in September 2013, for taking a petition to the Prime Minister to protest against the reduction of state loans to students enrolled in public universities.
  • 7 women Christian ladies were arrested and later charged for inciting insurrection and trouble among the population because of carrying a letter to the President’s Office, with a message purported to be from God, asking the President to change his style of leadership so as to pre-empt a looming disaster.
  • The President of PS Imberakuri, Mr. Bernard Ntaganda, was arrested weeks before the presidential elections on 24 June 2010 and charged with endangering national security, attempting to organize an illegal demonstration and resorting to actions that divide people. The Supreme Court confirmed his sentence of four years in prison on 27 April 2012.
  • A member of FDU-inkingi was arrested at the Office of the Prime Minister in December 2015 where he had gone to deliver a copy of a letter that the political parties FDU-Inkingi, PDP-Imanzi and PS-Imberakuri had written asking for clearance to hold a peaceful demonstration against changing the Constitution.

II.2. Law 46/218 of 18/08/2018 relating to counter terrorism

Article 18: Membership of a terrorist group: A person who is member of a terrorist group or accepts to join a terrorist group or who deliberately participates in the acts of a terrorist group or a group which contributes to the capacity-building of another terrorist group, commits an offence. Upon conviction, he or she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than fifteen (15) years but not more than twenty (20) years.

Article 19: Committing and participating in terrorist acts: A person who commits, attempts to commit, participates in or supports terrorist acts commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than fifteen (15) years but not more than twenty (20) years.

If the offence referred to in Paragraph One of this Article involves a leader of the group or any other person who played a role in its formation, the penalty is an imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty (20) years but not more than twenty-five (25) years.

Article 33: Terrorism for political purposes: A person who commits any terrorist act for political purposes, with intent to destabilize public organs or cause to change their functioning, commits an offence. Upon conviction, he or she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty (20) years but not more than twenty-five (25) years.

The government takes any opportunity to link any serious political contender to RPF power to accuse him or her using the articles 18,19 and 33 of the Law 46/2018  combined with the articles 202,203 of the penal code, of being part or having formed an armed group with intent to overthrow the government.

Today Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, and Mr Bernard Ntaganda are summoned to appear twice per month before agents of RIB. And the alleged accusations are based on above cited articles.

They are charged of being in connection with some so called terrorists groups made up of Rwandans who fled the country. These groups are based in DR Congo and most of them were created while these opposition leaders were in prison.

Apparently, these laws are used as political tools to intimidate and silence those political leaders who remain the sole politicians operating in Rwanda and who dare to challenge openly RPF. They are operating in critical conditions hard to deal with.

III. Challenges for opposition political parties to recruit

No party can exist without recruiting members. In the case of Rwanda, only the ruling party RPF is allowed to organize public recruitment activities. It is even harder for political parties who have not yet been registered to recruit because potential members fear to fall foul of the law against those joining alleged illegal meeting, or to be labelled the enemy of the country.It is difficult to meet people to recruit without hindrance of different state bodies.

The law governing political organization is very clear regarding the whole process of recruitment before holding the first general assembly but the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) doesn’t comply with this law. This shows its clear intention to topple the creation of the opposition party since it knows quite well the law governing political parties.

Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, President of DALFA–Umurinzi party is being interrogated by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) since February over an alleged illegal meeting. This accusation is related to a meeting in her house around 6 people with whom she was discussing about statutes and rules of the new party.

Indeed, RPF political cadres, all local administrative leaders, police, army reservists as well as DASSO[1] keep surveillance over the community in their respective localities to ensure that any visitors from outside their localities are recorded giving reason for any visit. They have to ensure that the ruling party policy is implemented and hunt down and intimidate any person who refuses to join RPF political party.

Everyone irrespective of party allegiance are constantly harassed and threatened by local officials for refusing to pay party fees to RPF because they do not belong to that Party.

IV. Registration of political parties

The law relating to formation of political organisations has been framed in a way that makes it hard if not impossible for a political party suspected on not toeing the government line to register. The process is unduly cumbersome, and the administration is totally partisan.

Article 8 of the law 005/2018.OL governing political organisations and politicians stipulates that a political organization shall be established upon the decision of the first general assembly of its members in which they approve its statutes and internal rules and regulations. Meetings preparing or deciding on the establishment of a political organization shall comply with the laws governing public gatherings. As mentioned above, it is difficult to get authorization to hold a meeting.

Article 11 stipulates that they need to request for the registration of a political organization.

Founders of political organizations shall submit to the authority in charge of the registration of political organizations a letter requesting for their organization to be registered with an acknowledgement for receipt.

The number of members who signed the statutes governing the political organization shall be at least two hundred (200) in the whole country, with at least five (5) people having their domicile in each district.   It is difficult for a political organization of opposition to be registered by the government body which has in charge of the registration of political organisations. Since this Institution is under full control of RPF as well as all public institutions even private ones. Although, it is very simple to get this required number of those people even more.

Since November 2019 Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has asked an appointment with the person in charge of the registration of political organizations by Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) until today she is not been received.

To sum up, the historical experience shows that they cannot be any sustainable development without democracy and other values of any modern society as the reason goes. Therefore, we earnestly request countries friends of Rwanda which cherish those values and its people to help establish democracy and rule of law in Rwanda in order to build a bright future for this country (Rwanda). To achieve this goal, countries friends of Rwanda should use (by using) all means in their power to bring the Rwandan regime to do the following:

  1. Open the space in which political parties can freely operate and offer all citizens the right and opportunity to freely form and register a political party
  2. Remove legal and de facto restrictions on political activities
  3. Free all political prisoners and cease harassment against opposition members inside and outside the country.
  4. Grant the rehabilitation to political leaders who had long been released from prison

Kigali, March 17,2020

The President of DALFA UMURINZI

The Founding President of the Social Party Imberakuri

[1] DASSO main responsibilities:  1° to support District authorities to enforce their decisions and instructions that were taken in connection with security;  2° to collaborate with other organs to ensure public order in the District; 3° to arrest any person caught red-handed in the act of disruption of public order and take him/her to the nearest police station; 4° to inform the nearest administrative organs of anything which in its opinion represents a threat to safety; 5° to assist other security organs if necessary; 6° to collaborate with other organs in the prevention and control of disasters in the District.