Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) has sent out a stern warning to those who engage in cyberstalking, saying the practice is illegal and will not be tolerated in the country.
Cyberstalking is defined as use of the internet or other electronic means to attack or harass an individual, a group of individuals or an organisation, with the harasser often concealing their identity.
It can take different forms, including false accusations, defamation, slander and libel, monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, blackmail, solicitation for sex, among others, according to experts.
In Rwanda, cyberstalking manifests in different ways, with blackmail at the top of the list.
Speaking to The New Times, Thierry Murangira, the RIB spokesperson, said the intention of the offender is to intimidate the victim, cause distress or damage their reputation.
He said that in most cases the offender and the victim are former lovers.
"This is something we have been seeing in many cases, where one of the people who were intimate with each other resorts to cyberstalking when the relationship goes wrong," he said. "In the past, people used to stalk others physically but now it is being done online; it is a serious crime although many people tend to be ignorant about it."
RIB has made several arrests for the offence, he said.
Just last week, RIB arrested an ADEPR pastor, Etienne Hakizimana, at the Kigali International Airport just before he could catch a flight to the US, he said.
The suspect was arrested after he shared intimate photos of a 27-year-old girl who had ended their relationship after finding out that he was a married man, Murangira explained.
"When she discovered that he was married she terminated the relationship and he decided to share her intimate photos with other people," he said.
Hakizimana had been served with summons after the woman filed a case with RIB which he did not honour, Murangira said.
The offenders, he said, use nudes (photos or videos) or audios with a view to extort or blackmail the victim into doing what they want them to do.
"We want everyone to know that cyberstalking is a crime and the law protects them, let the victims come forward and seek justice," Murangira added.
Advice to the public
He could not, however, say how many such cases RIB has recorded in recent days.
According to the law on prevention and punishment of cybercrimes, cyberstalking occurs when any person who, intentionally, uses a computer or a computer system (including phones) to harass or threaten with the intent to place another person in distress or fear.
It lists some of the ways the offence is committed, including displaying, distributing or publishing indecent documents, sounds, pictures, or videos; in bad faith, taking pictures, videos or sounds of any other person without their consent or knowledge; or displaying or distributing information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to any other person.
Upon conviction, the offender is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than six months and not more than two years and a fine of not less than Rwf1,000,000 and not more than Rwf2,000,000, or both.
Prosecution can only take place upon complaint by the offended party.
Lambert Jules Ineza, a legal expert, advised members of the public to always protect their personal information, especially on social media, and refrain from sharing any sensitive information on such platforms.
"People have to be careful in their relationships, because some people can just use others for their own interests, so they have to pay attention to what they share; that includes any intimate pictures, audios or videos to their partners."
But if a crime has been committed, he added, "the victims should know that they are the first ones that should report it, otherwise they will live in shame while the other person lives freely."