By Lennert Breuker
Several news-agencies made mention of a prominent Rwandan opposition member, Victoire Ingabire, being arrested on charges of cooperation with a terroristic rebel group, and perhaps more conspicuously, on charges of ‘genocidal ideology’. The precise scope of the relevant criminal provision is not known to me, but according to a Dutch news-agency it concerns a legal prohibition to deny genocide. However, the same (brief) article (http://www.bndestem.nl/algemeen/buitenland/6579160/Oppositieleider-Rwanda-Ingabire-gearesteerd.ece) also states that merely addressing ethnicity is formally prohibited according to Rwandan legislation since the genocide. This seems a bit unlikely, but readers who can confirm this are cordially invited to comment.
Assuming that raising the issue of ethnicity is allowed as long as it does not amount to a denial of genocide, the question still arises whether a fair balance has been struck in this case between the right of freedom of expression and maintaining public order through a prohibition on hate speech. Particularly as Ingabire seemed to have been acting in the capacity of politician while making the concerned statements. Rwanda’s Prosecutor General confirmed the charges, but is not cited giving any concrete examples of ‘genocidal ideology’ (as the Cambodia Daily refers to the charge). The paper speculates that the charge may be based on public statements in which Ingabire has said that many Hutu’s – and not only Tutsi’s – have been killed during the genocide, who were never officially mourned. Ingabire, who is of the Hutu ethnicity herself, is said to have criticized the government for over-simplifying the account of the genocide on several occasions.
This aspect, criticism on the government, may actually have been perceived as more of a poignant statement by the authorities than Ingabire’s views on the historical accuracy of the genocide. Critics have put forward that the ‘genocidal ideology’ prohibition has been used before to restrain political dissent (Cambodia Daily April23). But also other legal grounds have been used recently in an alleged shake-up of the military, as two high ranking generals were arrested for corruption and immoral conduct. Another senior official and former general has defected to South Africa, claiming that his life was at risk for disagreeing with governmental policies. It is to be hoped that the repressive policy as regards addressing ethnic issues does not backfire by fuelling racial division more than avoiding it, by denying the (ethnic) opposition a voice.