10 January 2019

Rwanda: Supreme Court Pushes Hearing of Penal Code Petition to Next Week

Supreme Court has pushed to next week the hearing of a petition filed by Richard Mugisha, a Kigali-based lawyer who challenged some of the provisions in the penal law that went into force last year in August.

Some of the provisions that were challenged by Mugisha, through his lawyers, include those that criminalise adultery, publication of cartoons and defamation against the Head of State, among others.

In total, there are five articles that are being contested by the lawyer.

Mugisha insists that these provisions contravene the letter and spirit of the Rwandan Constitution, hence asking for them to be omitted from the legal books.

Speaking to The New Times on Wednesday, Moise Nkundabarashi, one of the lawyers representing Mugisha in the petition, said that the case was pushed to January 18 due to the unavailability of some of the justices on the bench.

"They wrote to us informing us that judges are not available and put it on January 18 (Next Friday)," said Nkundabarashi, who is a partner at Trust Law Chambers, where Mugisha is a Senior Partner.

On the first mention early last month, the case was heard by five senior judges including Chief Justice Prof Sam Rugege, who was presiding. Others included former Chief Justice Aloysie Cyanzayire.

Nkundabarashi added: "We are ready to present our case as long as they still consider the legality of our petition because there was also an objection to it; which the justices must rule on before we can proceed".

During the initial hearing early last month, Principal State Attorney Speciose Kabibi had challenged the legitimacy of Mugisha's petition on grounds that he was not directly affected by any of the articles he was challenging.

Kabibi was representing the state, which is the respondent in the case.

She added Mugisha was not a journalist to have been a party directly affected by the provisions adding that the fact that he was a lawyer should not arise, saying that he should have gone through the Rwanda Bar Association.

This prompted the judges to adjourn the case, with Rugege ruling that they would deliberate on the respondent's challenge and come up with a decision, which will determine whether or not the case continues to substance.

It was earlier slated to Friday January 11, before the latest decision by Supreme Court to push it for another week, to January 18.

According to the new penal code, any married person found guilty of adultery risks a jail sentence of up to one year.

The same law provides for sentences of up to two years and a fine of Rwf1 million for anyone who publishes writings or cartoons deemed to humiliate public officials on duty.

The same law prescribes a seven-year sentence and a fine of Rwf7m for a person who defames the Head of State.

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