Since last week, social media have been awash with arguments surrounding alleged rape cases following strong claims made on an anonymous Twitter account.
An individual using Twitter handle @my250tweets had by press time published the names and photos of four men — including some popular figures — who allegedly raped at least one woman in the recent past.
This has triggered a stormy debate on Twitter, with some extending sympathies to the alleged victims, while others have termed it an act of mob justice without concrete evidence.
Police have since joined in, calling on the victims of rape to file cases with them as opposed to simply making the claims on social media.
“We encourage victims to report to the police or call 3512 and to utilise the Isange One Stop Centre services. We urge anyone who has a grievance on a case that was not handled to their satisfaction to contact us on 0788311778,” Police tweeted.
With a presence across the country, the Isange One Stop Centre is a care and support facility that extends medical and social support services to rape victims.
It’s run by the Rwanda National Police.
Speaking to The New Times later, Police Spokesperson ACP Theos Badege said there are “better ways” for one to seek justice than taking to social media to make strong accusations against people.
“Rwanda is not a country where one would commit such a high impact crime and walk scot-free,” Badege said yesterday.
He added: “I don’t think it is really wise to put one’s name and photos out there in the public when credible institutions have not found them guilty of any crimes. That is taking laws into your own hands.”
According to Badege, one of the alleged female victims reported the rape case to the police in 2014 and investigations carried out accordingly.
The suspect, identified as Kagabo, was subsequently taken to court but he was later cleared of the charge for lack of evidence.
“The case was properly handled and it involved all stakeholders, including Isange One Stop Centre (medical examinations). Parents of the reported victim were present through out the entire process but court ruled that there was no convincing evidence of rape,” Badege said, adding, “You can’t appeal a court decision through Twitter.”
Tony Kuramba, the Spokesperson for Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA), told The New Times that in an era where social media regulation is a “challenge”, it is important that criminal matters are handled by competent jurisdiction.
“Regulating social media is still a challenge worldwide,” Kuramba said, before adding that, “criminal matters – such as rape – should be left to competent judicial institutions.”
However, some people believe that, while social media should not replace official mechanisms for redress, it is one of the tools that can be justifiably used to seek justice.
Fiona Kamikazi, a social media user, said using social media platforms to accuse anyone of rape and release their identity may not be the best way to seek redress but it may be the only way left for the victim to seek justice.
“I can’t say it is the right way but it is one of the ways, social media has helped in solving many issues in society,” she said.
She added that no victim is brave enough to talk about sexual assault publicly because of fear for stigma.
This, she said, discourages some victims which is partly the reason some of the genuine victims decide to take to social media to expose the alleged criminals.
“For these recent cases I think it’s an act of courage from these ladies but also we should remember it can have a negative impact if it is not well handled,” she said.
Responsibility should be exercised by all users, she added “because I am sure we have laws that also deal with those who defame others using social media platforms.”
“The tricky bit is that many hide behind the cloak of anonymity and this may make it difficult to not only believe them but also to contact them in order for justice to take its course,” she added.
Allan Brian Ssenyonga, another social media user and commentator, says that as much as social media has empowered people, victims should address their grievances to competent authorities before seeking to settle scores in public forums.
“It is important for victims or witnesses to approach the Police in case of such cases,” Ssenyonga said.
“We cannot also underestimate the power that these platforms give us. What we need is to be cognisant of the limits…some may simply want to settle scores by going after people who may not have been convicted,” he added.
Acknowledging that social media has the power to shape public opinion and the agenda in society, Badege urged members of the public to always use it in the right way.
“Social media has really empowered people and helped security organs to gather information which is helpful in keeping law and order,” he said.
However, he added, “we urge the public to always use proper channels in case of infringements on their rights or abuse.”
The New Times understands that two of the four individuals who have been cited in the Twitter rape allegations have since reported defamation-related cases to the police.
Meanwhile, allegations against one of the four accused individuals have since been withdrawn.