Senators reject petition to decriminalize defamation

KIGALI - Efforts by media practitioners to convince senators to decriminalize defamation hit a snag after their proposal was watered down by Senator Marie Mukantabana’s ad hoc committee on amendment of the penal code.
L-R : Senator Chysologue Kubwimana ; Senator Marie Mukantabana
L-R : Senator Chysologue Kubwimana ; Senator Marie Mukantabana

KIGALI - Efforts by media practitioners to convince senators to decriminalize defamation hit a snag after their proposal was watered down by Senator Marie Mukantabana’s ad hoc committee on amendment of the penal code.

The petition to decriminalize defamation was forwarded to the Senate by the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ).
In his presentation to the senatorial ad hoc committee, the president of ARJ, Gaspard Safari, outlined five articles that his association wanted to be amended.

Despite his thorough explanations of why Rwandan journalists wanted defamation decriminalized, senators also made it clear that they wanted defamation to be categorized as a criminal offense and punished by a jail term.

During the debate, journalists clearly indicated that they wanted defamation to be maintained as an offence but scrap the jail term and instead raise the monetary fines on such offences.

“You need to come up with a better way of convincing us otherwise, I don’t find any genuine reason as to why a jail term should not be imposed. As of now, we have rejected your proposals,” said Mukantabana.

The scribes’ hopes to have defamation decriminalized were put to rest by Sen. Chysologue Kubwimana who said that Senate would not sanction the amendments.
“I am here to represent Rwandans not to compromise with a certain group of people who are promoting their interests,” said Kubwimana.

Following the debate, the chairperson of the committee requested journalists to repackage their proposal and present it again to the committee in the next sitting.

In the proposal forwarded to the Senate, journalists recommended that, prison terms be repealed from Articles 297, 302, 305 and 306, and only fines maintained as probable penalty.

In the circumstance of a media practitioner being accused of defamation, the affected person should be able to prove that there was falsity and intentional malice, the proposal had argued.

They argued that maintaining Article 297 in its current form would seriously jeopardize investigative journalism and the fight against corruption and other social vices, which the media’s role.

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