Transparency International (TI) Rwanda has put forth a proposal to eliminate penalties imposed on individuals disclosing false information, as currently outlined in the whistleblower protection law enacted in 2017. The organization argues that these penalties can deter individuals from reporting criminal activities. The agency has also suggested the establishment of a secure environment to shield whistleblowers who expose information that could potentially harm them once those implicated become aware of their reporting. These recommendations come as Rwanda contemplates a review of its existing whistleblower law, as stated by the Ministry of Justice. ALSO READ: New whistleblowers law in the offing Information obtained from the Ministry of Justice by The New Times indicates that the primary objective of the proposed law revision is to remove the condition of rewarding whistleblowers and instead foster a sense of patriotism in whistleblowing, where monetary incentives are not involved. The sanctions for individuals who breach the law by disclosing information are detailed in article 15 of the current legislation. It stipulates that anyone divulging information contrary to Article 5 of the law commits an offense. Upon conviction, the offender may face a prison term ranging from one to three years, along with a fine ranging from Rwf 500,000 to Rwf 1 million. Article 5 lays out prohibitions, such as preventing a whistleblower from providing false information driven by personal interests, animosity, or potential conflicts between the whistleblower and the subject of the report or any affiliated person. It also bars a whistleblower from presenting information that serves the interests of a person they intend to protect or that aims to defame and dishonor an individual or entity subject to the whistleblowing. Colette Ndabarushimana, the policy and legal coordinator at Transparency International Rwanda, informed The New Times that the severity of these penalties can discourage people from disclosing information related to crimes, including corruption. ALSO READ: Over 87% of Rwandans 'did not report corruption' in 2022 It has been recognized that such penalties might dissuade individuals from coming forward with information due to the fear of repercussions, especially when they could be falsely accused of intentionally supplying false information. This is why we have requested the removal of Article 15, she said. Furthermore, she pointed out that evidence incriminating the party being reported might not always be accessible, but the absence of such evidence does not necessarily mean that a crime was not committed. She continued by highlighting the vulnerability of information providers, explaining that those who share information often lack power compared to those implicated. This power imbalance could lead to influential parties manipulating the situation, resulting in the person who disclosed the information facing charges of falsehood even when they are innocent. ALSO READ: Law makers, why punish whistleblowers? Ndabarushimana emphasized that the information provided by whistleblowers forms the foundation for investigations. She added that if the person implicated is found innocent, they are not subjected to punishment. Safe Spaces and Legal Representation She stressed the necessity of providing legal support to whistleblowers, as well as establishing secure spaces to ensure their safety. If you disclose information about a powerful individual engaged in million-dollar dealings, that person might resort to extreme measures against you, she cautioned. We propose that in situations where your safety is compromised, a 'safe space' should be instituted, she suggested. She further recommended that legal representation be available to whistleblowers in court, especially when financial constraints prevent them from affording legal fees. Addressing failure to Act on disclosed information However, Ndabarushimana pointed out that the existing provisions do not outline consequences for entities that receive whistleblower information but fail to utilize it for investigating implicated offenses. The absence of such provisions could lead to the concealment of offenders and cultivate indifference among members of the public towards reporting crimes or illicit activities. Some individuals question why they should report offenses when their disclosures do not yield results—i.e., when implicated individuals are not held accountable, she noted.