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Rwandan Court Acquits Journalists Accused of Fake News

FILE - A map of Rwanda.

Three Rwandan journalists Wednesday were acquitted by a local court after spending four years in detention on charges of spreading false information with intent to incite violence and tarnish the East African nation’s image.

Rwandan court officials Wednesday ruled in favor of Jean Damascène Mutuyimana, Niyodusenga Schadrack and Jean Baptiste Nshimiyimana, three Rwandan journalists working for Iwacu TV who faced arrest in 2018 for allegedly causing unrest and spreading rumors.

“There is no evidence to prove that their publication incited violence,” said Speciose Nyirabagande, one of the three judges presiding over the case.

Jean Paul Ibambe, the trio’s defense lawyer, welcomed the ruling but criticized the length of their pre-trial detention.

“Imagine serving four years in preventive detention,” Ibambe said, adding “The courts should be quickening the procedures instead of taking this long time.”

Rwandan human rights organizations accuse President Paul Kagame’s administration of violating the rights of journalists and using authoritarian means to stifle dissent.

In response, Kigali’s leaders reject accusations of violating journalists’ rights, saying the nation prioritizes freedom of speech.

Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, echoed sentiments stated by Rwandan activists and labelled the trial a sham.

“The relief at the acquittal of the three journalists is overshadowed by the court’s failure to stop this sham of a trial earlier,” Mudge said.

“The fact that a prosecution took place at all will send a chilling message to others who dare to exercise their right to free expression in Rwanda,” he added.