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Rwanda YouTuber, Dieudonné Niyonsenga, loses appeal for breaching COVID-19 protocol, risks 7-year jail term



Popular Rwandan YouTuber, Dieudonné Niyonsenga has had his appeal turned down, a seven-year jail sentence slammed on him by a High Court in November 2021 on charges of assault, obstructing police officers, and practicing journalism without a press card.

Niyonsenga’s problems date back to 15 April 2020, when he was arrested while on his way to cover the impact of the government’s coronavirus lockdown, and was charged with contravening the lockdown and showing false press cards to the police.

Niyonsenga is the proprietor and a reporter for Ishema TV, a YouTube channel that gives reportage on a wide variety of issues like local politics, culture, and human rights.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau, in charge of criminal investigations, on April 15, 2020, took to Twitter to announce the arrest of the popular YouTuber and a driver of Ishema TV, Fidele Komezusenge, for allegedly breaching COVID-19 lockdown rules.

The bureau claimed the YouTuber resisted orders from officials to go home, arguing that he was a journalist and is permitted movement during the lockdown. He was also accused of forging press cards.

Prosecutors alleged that Niyonsenga had forged press cards for himself and Komezusenge, saying that only the Rwanda Media Commission could issue such cards, according to the court documents and the person who spoke with CPJ. The crime of forgery carries a prison term of up to seven years under Rwanda’s 2018 criminal code.

Prosecutors also alleged that because he did not have an accreditation from the RMC, Niyonsenga was impersonating a journalist, according to the person who spoke to CPJ and the court documents. Prosecutors also accused Komezusenge of impersonation, saying he did not have journalistic qualifications or RMC accreditation, according to the court documents.

Niyonsenga and Komezusenge pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their defence argued that Rwandan law permitted citizens to establish websites to disseminate information; that Ishema TV was properly registered; that Niyonsenga had a right to issue company ID cards; and that accreditation by the RMC did not have journalistic status to anyone.

Both were remanded for the duration of their trial, according to media reports. On March 12, 2021, the Gasabo Intermediate Court in Kigali acquitted them both, and they were released on March 13, according to Niyonsenga’s lawyer.

However, prosecutors appealed Niyonsenga’s acquittal, and on November 11, 2021, the High Court in Kigali convicted him of forgery, impersonation and humiliating state officials, according to media reports.

Niyonsenga was fined 5 million Rwandan Francs (US$4,900) by the court and was sentenced to seven years in prison, the maximum prison term for forgery, according to media reports. Shortly after the court’s ruling, police detained Niyonsenga from his home in Kigali, according to the journalist’s Twitter posts and media reports.

The journalist had posted videos that indicted soldiers of severe abuses against poor persons during the coronavirus lockdown.

The YouTuber and his lawyer were absent in court. His father was present in court as the ruling that upheld the sentence was made, even though no new evidence was made.

Human Rights Watch has accused Rwanda earlier in the week of censoring freedom of speech and demanded the immediate release of Niyonsenga and other bloggers, activists, and journalists.

However, the government has issued a statement dismissing the concerns raised by the rights group, saying everyone was equal before the law.


Rwandan President, Kagame sacks over 200 military personnel in major shake-up



Rwandan President, Paul Kagame has sacked over 200 soldiers including top military brass and commanders from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) in a massive shake-up.

The dismissed officers include the former Commander of the Reserve Forces, Maj. Gen. Aloys Muganga, and Brig. Gen. Francis Mutiganda, a former Head of External Security in the National Intelligence Services, as well as 14 senior officers.

The announcement of the sacking of the officers which was contained in a statement released by the RDF on Wednesday, did not give reason for the sackings, but the move come a day after the president reshuffled the top echelon of the country’s military, which saw the firing of the Defence Minister and an Army Chief.

The sacking of the soldiers has further heightened tension between Rwanda and neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, with each side accusing the other of working with rebels to topple one another’s governments, according to reports in local media.

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UN war crimes court declares Rwandan genocide suspect, Felicien Kabuga unfit to stand trial



An 88-year-old Rwandan genocide suspect, Felicien Kabuga has been declared unfit to stand trial by judges at a United Nations War Crimes Court in The Hague.

In a decision published by the court on Wednesday, the judges acknowledged that Kabuga was no longer able to actively participate in his trial, and rather proposed an alternative process that aims to resemble a trial but does not allow for a conviction instead of stopping the proceedings completely.

“The trial chamber finds Mr. Kabuga is no longer capable of meaningful participation in his trial,” the publication said.

“The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, therefore, finds that Mr. Kabuga is not fit for trial and is very unlikely to regain fitness in the future.

“It is therefore agreed to adopt an alternative finding procedure that resembles a trial as closely as possible, but without the possibility of a conviction,” it added.

Kabuga who was arrested in Paris where he had been in hiding under a false identity for several years, was one of the most wanted suspects of the Rwandan genocide, and was charged at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with genocide and crimes against humanity.

At his initial arraignment in September last year, the ICC heard that Kabuga was alleged to have been the main financier of the ethnic Hutu militias who slaughtered over 800,000 minority Tutsis as well as political opponents during the genocide in 1994.

According to the UN, Kabuga, a wealthy businessman from the Hutu ethnic group, had established and financed an infamous media outfit, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), which was notorious for inciting violence and promoting the targeting and elimination of individuals from the Tutsi ethnic group who were referred to as “Cockroaches”.

Kabuga was arrested in Paris in 2020 after decades on the run and sent for trial in The Hague where he pleaded not guilty to charges of sponsoring the infamous Hutu radical radio station urging people to kill Tutsi “cockroaches”.

He also denied supplying machetes and supporting the murderous Interahamwe Hutu militia.

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