Kigali — The Rwandan parliament recently passed a law authorising high-ranking security officials to monitor email and telephone conversations of individuals considered potential threats to the national security. Although the law is secretly rejected by most Rwandan citizens around the country, only opposition militants in exile dare to openly denounce what they call a text dictated by fear and violence.
In Rwanda, the chief of police, the army commander and the head of the intelligence services are all allowed to monitor the communications of anyone suspected of threatening national security. The law, which has just been passed by Parliament, also prohibits accessing banned websites or reading certain materials.
Reading documents considered subversive by the government is equated with complicity with the author and carries the same sentence. "It means that if I were to call Patrick Karegeya or read his party's communiqué, I would be punishable by law," comments an independent journalist who wishes to remain anonymous.
Colonel Karegeya, former head of military intelligence under President Paul Kagame's regime, is currently in exile in South Africa with General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, the former Army Chief of Staff. Two years ago, they formed the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), together with other defectors of Kagame's administration. The party continuously calls for the Rwandan president's departure.
Anything and everything
"[The law] means that we are now at the mercy of these three big men of the police, army and intelligence, because the threat to national security is an umbrella charge than can include anything and everything," explains a young lawyer, who also doesn't want to reveal his name. "It's a means of silencing us. It's censorship, plain and simple," says a young university student.
On local radio stations only a few voices have criticised the law, denouncing the violation of individual privacy. In a reaction, the Rwandan Interior Minister, Fazil Harerimana, announced a campaign to explain the wisdom behind the law.
Gripped by fear
The most virulent criticism comes from Rwandans in exile. "This is another sign proving that the regime in Kigali is totalitarian," says Eugène Ndayaho, vice president of the oppositional United Democratic Forces (UDF). The UDF is the party of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire who is being tried for allegedly collaborating with terrorist groups.
"The government is in fact only legalising a long-time practice," says Ndayaho, who lives in France. "Even Ingabire fell victim to it. It's a new step in the enforcement of laws that destroy freedom. The regime is protecting itself through dictatorial practices based on fear and violence." His view is shared by exiled journalist Amiel Nkuriza, who sees in the new law "evidence that the regime is gripped by fear."
Crush the opposition
The new legislation is an addition to other recently adopted laws on genocide ideology and sectarianism, which sparked wide criticism from international human rights organisations. Amnesty International, for example, called in a 2010 report for the amendment of these laws that are written in vague terms, claiming that the Rwandan government is using them to crush any opposition and silence free speech. The revision process for the law on genocide ideology is currently under way.