RE: “Decriminalising defamation is in national interest” (The New Times, December 7).
Defamation is not innocent and unwitting use of false information to damage someone’s reputation. It is the use of information the defamer knows to be false with the express malicious intent of injuring the reputation of the defamer’s target. Therein lies the criminality: malicious intent. If it is absent, the unknowing use of false information, even when it damages the reputation of the subject, is not defamatory.
The writer therefore is applying irrelevant arguments to erroneous premises. He also fails to point out that the threat of defamatory liability is needed to ensure professionalism in our media; they should verify their information before they publish or broadcast it. The onus to verify the veracity of the information must be entirely on those who release publicly; it must not be on their victims to try and salvage their already damaged reputation. And, there must be greater protection for private citizens rather than those in public positions.
As a counter measure, it is important that, in order to help ensure full, transparent accountability, we have a well-functioning regime of freedom of information that allows the media and any citizen to access all information generated by public organs. The only refusal to such access would be where it can be shown that such open access would endanger national security, but the onus would be on the public authorities to provide convincing arguments why that would be so.
Rwanda is known for doing well in almost every sector; making defamation a criminal matter will degrade our country’s credibility in the eyes of the people in the international community.
Take a look into criminal law in the entire sub-Saharan Africa; how many countries criminalise defamation? In actual sense, prosecution and police should not in any case get involved in defamation matters. This should be a civil matter where the defendants prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were defamed in the eyes of the right thinking persons.
More so, the way it is written in the draft law, it creates criminal discrimination between top civil servants and the rest of citizens. Why protect parliamentarians and leave out others?