11 July 2019

Rwanda: Government Moves to Amend Penal Law Provisions Challenged in Supreme Court

The State Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs has presented a draft law that seeks to amend certain provisions in the current law determining offences and penalties in general.

Evode Uwizeyimana tabled the bill in the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday and requested MPs to pass the proposed amendments because they were ordered by the Supreme Court in a ruling made in April 2019.

The State Minister said that the government's proposed amendments are in line with what the Supreme Court decided on provisions related to adultery and defamation offences.

The Supreme Court is the country's highest court.

"The objective is to comply with the Supreme Court decision," he said, explaining that it's that court that is mandated to give direction on matters of the highest laws of the land.

He urged the MPs to approve the amendments without delay in order to respect the country's system of checks and balances, which involves respect for courts' decisions.

"We may talk and talk but we won't be able to change the Supreme Court's decision. As the government and Parliament, we have to respect courts' decisions," he said.

Members of parliament follow State Minister Evode Uwizeyimana as he addresses parliament yesterday (Sam Ngendahimana)

In April, the Supreme Court ruled against some provisions in the penal law, which included those that criminalise humiliation of public authorities as well as defamation of religious rituals in the public.

It also ruled against the judge's current right to continue prosecution of an adultery case even when the offended spouse calls off the case.

The Supreme Court delivered the landmark ruling in the case filed by city lawyer, Richard Mugisha, who had challenged some of the provisions in the penal law that went into force in August last year.

In respect to the court's decision, the government has hence moved to amend the penal law to correct provisions challenged by the judiciary.

While article 136 in paragraph 4 granted court the discretion to admit or not admit the withdrawal of a complaint of one of the spouses who has been a victim of adultery, this paragraph will be removed.

That's because it undermined the right of one of the spouses who wants to withdraw the complaint with the intention of protecting the sovereignty and relationship of the family, Uwizeyimana argued, quoting the Supreme Court's decision.

Article 154 of the penal law, which is about public defamation of religious rituals, will be removed as the Supreme Court ruled because it is inconsistent with Article 38 of the Constitution which states that "freedom of press, of expression and of access to information are recognised and guaranteed by the State".

By the same token, article 233 of the current penal law will be removed as the Supreme Court ruled because it is inconsistent with the Constitution's article 38 and article 15 which stipulates that "all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law".

Uwizeyimana said that although the Supreme Court decided that article 236 of the current penal law is not inconsistent with the articles 15 and 38 of the Constitution, it is necessary that this article also be removed because many people still argue that it is against their freedom to provide their opinions on the Head of State.

Against the opinion of many, including President Paul Kagame himself, the article states that "any person who insults or defames the President of the Republic commits an offence".

Upon conviction, the offender is liable to a term imprisonment of not less than five years and not more than seven years and a fine of more than Rwf5,000,000 and not more than Rwf7,000,000.

MPs on Wednesday approved the basis of the proposed amendments on the penal law, which means that debates on the bill will proceed at a parliamentary committee level.

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