Freedom of worship is protected by Rwandan law. No preference is given to any particular religion, and the different religious sects in the country have the freedom to practice their beliefs as long as it is done in a lawful manner.
Under N°54/2011 of 14/12/2011 law relating to the rights and the protection of the child, children are given the freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion. The holdback is that such freedom depends on the child’s age and level of understanding. Regardless, they ought not to be coerced by anyone to think a certain way or believe in certain things.
Those who interfere with freedom of worship are punishable under the Penal Code of Rwanda. According to article 277 of the Penal Code, any person who prevents someone from practicing their religion is liable to a minimum term of imprisonment of eight days and a minimum fine of Rwf20,000.
Preventing someone from practicing their religion can be done through violence, insults, forcing them to stop, or causing trouble and disorder that will delay or interrupt a public religious worship ceremony. However, article 277 says that such a ceremony should be conducted in a legally recognised manner.
Another act of interference with freedom of worshipis degrading rites, symbols or objects that have been specifically put in place for religious practice. Article 278 of the Penal Code says that this can be done through acts, speeches, gestures, writing or threats. This crime carries a term of imprisonment ranging from 15 days to six months and/or a fine which can be as heavy Rwf500,000.
Since different religions are led by leaders who are respected by people who subscribe to those beliefs, humiliating a religious leader is seen as interference with freedom of worship. Article 279 of the Penal Code lists insults, battery or injury as some of the ways that are considered as humiliating a religious leader.
The humiliation can also be done through acts, speeches, gestures or threats. Anyone who does that is, according to article 279 of the Penal Code, “liable to a term of imprisonment of six (6) months to two (2) years.”
The punishment is increased to a term of imprisonment of two to five years if the religious leader is attacked while performing his/her duty. The perpetrator also pays a fine ranging from Rwf100,000to Rwf500,000.
The punishment is even higher if the attack on the religious leader results in bleeding, injury or illness.
There are numerous religions around the world and it’s not possible to harmonise their beliefs. As such, protecting the freedom of worship is important in order to maintain peace and non-discrimination.