Drawing cartoons or writing material that humiliates a Rwandan government official, is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to Frw1 million, the new penal code says.
The Article (233) in question reads that: “Any person who, verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons, humiliates a member of Parliament when exercising his/her mandate, a member of the Cabinet, security officers or any other person in charge of a public service in the performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offence.”
The law, however, does not define “Humiliation”.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, humiliation is to reduce (someone) to a lower position in one’s own eyes or others’ eyes : to make (someone) ashamed or embarrassed.
Other definitions describe humiliation an emotion felt by a person whose social status has been reduced by an embarrassment after committing a socially or legally unacceptable act.
The article also says that, if contempt takes place during a session of the Parliament or if it is directed to any of the top ranking authorities, the penalties provided for under Paragraph One of the article are doubled.
The Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Journalists Association, Gonza Muganwa, has said the association will seek legal interpretations and advise members accordingly.
He told journalists that the trade of journalism, cartoons are by nature humorous and therefore easy for leaders to perceive them negatively or as humiliating even when it’s not.
This article does not draw a line between “humiliation” and “criticism”, raising fear the article does not provide for difference between an insult or personal attack.
He also said on his Facebook page that, “We will defeat this cartoonish law!”
The new penal code has however decriminalized defamation in general, after years of advocacy by the media industry and dialogue with the government with a consensus that criminalization of media offenses suppresses independent media.
The journalists association believes complaints against the media should be handled by the media self-regulatory body or by civil means.