Western diplomats in Rwanda voiced their concern on Tuesday over an order that presidential candidates must submit their social media messages to National Electoral Commission (NEC) for pre-approval before dissemination.
“We are all concerned about this recent development and I think it is important to really understand what is behind this very, very serious limitation on the freedom of expression,” said US ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles.
The envoy was speaking at a panel on human rights organised by the European Union and attended by foreign diplomats as well as Rwanda’s justice minister, Johnston Busingye.
The measure giving control over social media use to the (NEC) will take effect at the start of the official campaign period on July 14 ahead of elections on August 4.
The rule states that all “messages, photographs and other campaign material” to be published on social networks must be submitted to the commission for approval at least 48 hours before they are due to be published.
It is aimed at “avoiding expressions, words, acts that can lead to acts of insecurity, the awakening of divisionism among the Rwandan population,” said Kalisa Mbanda, election commission president.
Germany’s ambassador Peter Woeste said other countries also faced problems of controlling hate speech, but asked whether “censorship [is] the way to go?” EU ambassador Michael Ryan described the measure as “too limiting”.
Rwanda opposition figures have also criticised the move saying it will be used to block any criticism of President Paul Kagame who has been in charge of the country since 1994 and is running for a third term after changing the constitution to permit his candidacy.
Four opposition candidates are hoping to run against Kagame, if they are granted approval by the election commission.
These include namely Dr Frank Habineza from Green Party, Diane Rwigara, daughter to the Kigli Taycoon Assinapol Rwigara who perished in a car accident two years ago. There is also Gilbert Mwenedata, who failed legislative run in 2013, and Philippe Mpayimana, former journalist who repatriated from Europe too recently.
Jean Baptiste Karegeya