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

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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.

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Sudan recalls Ambassador from Addis Ababa after accusing Ethiopia of executing soldiers

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Sudan has recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia after accusing the Ethiopian army of executing seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian who had been held in captivity.

The Sudanese military had said on Sunday that the Ethiopian soldiers had executed the captives and displayed their bodies in public while negotiations were ongoing for their release, promising that there would be “an appropriate response” to the execution.

“It is an act that contravenes all laws and customs of war and international humanitarian law, the Ethiopian army executed seven Sudanese soldiers and a citizen who were their captives.

“This treacherous act will not pass without a response,” the Sudanese military said.

The Ethiopian government however, denied complicity by its military in the killing of the Sudanese soldiers, blaming the Sudanese forces for crossing into its territory and provoking a clash.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa, issued a statement expressing regret over the incident but said Ethiopia has been misrepresented.

“The Government of Ethiopia categorically rejects the misrepresentation of these facts by the Sudanese defense forces that unjustly put the blame on Ethiopia, while it was the Sudanese army unit that crossed (over) the Ethiopian border, provoking the incident.”

But in an announcement late Monday, Sudan said it would recall its envoy from Addis Ababa as well as summon the Ethiopian ambassador from Khartoum.

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Uganda’s Government changes position, invites striking art teachers for negotiations

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The Ugandan government has made a turn on its decision to sack all arts teachers involved in the industrial action.

The change in position comes barely days after the government threatened to dismiss the teachers. Minister Raphael Magyezi had revealed that the government had reached a final position to have Arts striking teachers sacked if they do not get back to class.

The government backed down and invited the leaders of the tutors’ union for negotiations to end the ongoing strike that has paralysed learning in public schools for two weeks now.

Art teachers across Uganda downed tools last week, threatening to throw the country’s education sector into yet another crisis, a few months after schools came out of two years of a shutdown that kept thousands of learners at home.

The general secretary of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union, Mr Aron Mugaiga, had advised the leadership of the Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) to encourage their art counterparts to return to class.

“I urge members to go back and teach because if they continue with the industrial action, the lost time will never be recovered when the government affects their pay enhancement. I believe the doors for negotiations are still open,” Mr Mugaiga said.

The ongoing strike is just five months after Uganda reopened schools following a two-year closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has already caused outrage as more than eight million children in public schools miss out on learning.

Over 300 percent pay increment was allocated for science teachers in Uganda’s budget for the 2022/23 financial year, which starts in July but the allocation does not include arts and humanities teachers.

It is not uncommon to see prolonged industrial actions in Africa. Elsewhere in the continent, Nigeria, University teachers have been on strike since February over salary related agreement the academic union had with the government in 2009.

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