22 December 2010

Rwanda: Journalists Petition the Senate Over Defamation

A press briefing in Rwanda (file photo).

Kigali — Media practitioners, through the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ), have petitioned the senate to review several articles in the penal code to help ease the practice of journalism in Rwanda.

In the letter sent to Senate President, Dr. Vincent Biruta, the association said that some of the articles punishing defamation could be an obstacle to practitioners.

The association proposed that the Senate reviews Articles 297,302,303,305,307of the draft Penal Code.

"We recommend that, prison terms be removed from Articles 297, 302, 305 and 306, and only fines maintained as probable penalty. In the circumstance of a media practitioner being accused of defamation, the affected person should be able to prove that there was falsity and intentional malice," reads the letter in part.

"However, mindful of the importance to individuals of their reputations and the need to provide appropriate protection for reputation, the law should maintain penalty in form of reasonable fines."

The penal code is currently under review in the senate.

The association particularly recommended that a phrase "in the circumstance public interest is at stake, no offense shall be perceived to have been committed", be added.

They argued that maintaining Article 297 in its current form would seriously jeopardize investigative journalism and the fight against corruption and other social vices, which the media is required to do.

The letter also clarified that the decriminalization of the above offences would help to promote the media's 'watchdog role.

"Worldwide, there is a growing wave to decriminalize media offences. The media fraternity of Rwanda has a strong belief that, to facilitate free speech and expression, the various legislations criminalizing that make defamation an offence attracting a prison term should be repealed," reads the letter.

When contacted, the association's president, Gaspard Safari, said that a committee representing the association is expected to meet the Senate later this week to present their case but could not give further details.

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