Aimable Karasira Uzaramba

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Rwandan authorities arrested Aimable Karasira Uzaramba, who shares political commentary on YouTube, in May 2021. He faces charges of genocide denial, genocide justification, inciting division, and spreading rumors, and remained detained in late 2022.

Karasira publishes political commentary on his YouTube channel Ukuri Mbona (The Truth as I See It), which he launched in 2011 and had about 63,000 subscribers at the time of his arrest, according to media reports and CPJ’s review of the channel. Karasira worked as a lecturer at the University of Rwanda until he was fired in August 2020 for alleged disciplinary infractions, according to media reports.

On May 31, 2021, officers with the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) arrested Karasira, accusing him of denying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in his social media commentary, according to tweets by the RIB and media reports.

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court in Kigali, the capital, charged Karasira with denying the genocide, justifying the genocide, and instigating division, according to those reports and two people who spoke to CPJ and are following Karasira’s case but asked to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisal. If convicted, each of those charges carries prison terms of up to seven years and fines of up to 1 million Rwandan francs (US$1,000) according to Rwanda’s Law on Genocide Ideology and the country’s penal code.

Prosecutors accuse Karasira of committing those offenses in YouTube videos posted on Ukuri Mbona and other channels where he allegedly said that Rwanda’s 1994 genocide was not planned; was an act of self-defense against the now-ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party, which was then a rebel force; and in which he questioned the fairness of the Gacaca community courts following the genocide and allegedly misrepresented the crimes of a businessman accused of financing the genocide, according to news reports and court documents reviewed by CPJ.

As evidence, prosecutors cited a May 20, 2021, video on Ukuri Mbona; a May 23 video posted on Umurabyo Online TV, a YouTube channel hosted by journalist Agnes Nkusi Uwimana; and a May 15 video posted on Pax Online TV, a YouTube channel covering regional news run by journalist and activist John-Williams Ntwali, according to the court documents.

Authorities did not provide links to the videos in the court documents CPJ reviewed. CPJ located multiple interviews with Karasira on Umurabyo TV, including on May 20 and May 23, 2021, in which he criticized the government’s narrative of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and accused authorities of distorting history; expressed his support for the political opposition and his hatred of President Paul Kagame and the ruling RPF, whose forces he accused of killing his parents in 1994; said there has been no true reconciliation in Rwanda after the genocide; and repeated allegations that the RPF has committed political assassinations. 

In a May 15, 2021, video on the YouTube channel Pax TV, Karasira spoke on similar themes—accusing officials of ethnic discrimination; saying that authorities were conflating his critical political opinions with genocide ideology; alleging that the RPF was made up of Ugandans; and claiming that the Gacaca courts had convicted some people for crimes they did not commit. Karasira, who is also a musician, also claimed that his songs had been banned from local stations.

CPJ was unable to find a video on Ukuri Mbona matching the prosecutors’ description, but the May 20 video from Umurabyo TV was reposted on Ukuri Mbona on May 21, 2021. 

Karasira’s defense team said that the commentator’s judgment was compromised at the time that he made the statements in the videos because he had been off medication for an unspecified mental health condition, according to media reports, two of the people who spoke with CPJ, and the court documents. 

Karasira said that although he stood by his statements, he would have phrased them differently had he been on his medication, according to a court document that CPJ reviewed and a report by The Chronicles. A court-ordered medical examination, whose credibility the defense team questioned, found that though Karasira suffered from a mental illness, he was fit to stand trial and should have been able to think soundly when he recorded the videos, according to these same sources.

Authorities also initially accused Karasira of illicit enrichment, a crime which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison under Rwanda’s anti-corruption law, saying that he had failed to justify the source of large sums of money that authorities found in his possession and his accounts, according to these same sources. By late September 2021, prosecutors had dropped the illicit enrichment charge but introduced a new offense, causing an uprising or unrest, a crime which carries a prison term of up to 15 years in prison under Rwanda’s penal code, according to one of the people familiar with Karasira’s case who spoke to CPJ.

In late 2021, the courts rejected the defense’s request to have Karasira released on bail on medical grounds, as he has diabetes and mental illness, according to multiple media reports

During a court appearance on May 30, 2022, Karasira objected to the proceedings saying he was not fit to stand trial and that he had been tortured in prison, according to several media reports and a report by Human Rights Watch, which cited court transcripts. 

Karasira said prison officials beat him, deprived him of sleep by playing loud music and using bright lights, and denied him adequate food and treatment for his diabetes and mental illness, according to the same sources. He also said he had been forced to appear in court, and officials had denied him access to his court files and were intercepting communication between him and his lawyer, according to Human Rights Watch.

The court adjourned the case to July 7, 2022, when Karasira said that prison officials had punished him with more beatings following his May 30 appearance, according to court transcripts reviewed by CPJ and reports by BBC Gahuza and the U.S. Congress Funded Voice of America. BBC Gahuza reported that during this July hearing, Karasira looked as though he had lost significant weight. 

Karasira also accused prison officials of keeping him in solitary confinement and denying him the opportunity for recreation and medical attention, according to those court transcripts. The defense said that prison officials were interfering in privileged communication between Karasira and his lawyer, according to those transcripts. 

During a November 18 hearing, the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court, which had been handling Karasira’s case, said it did not have the jurisdiction to do so and transferred the case to the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes, in Rwanda’s southern Nyanza District, according to multiple media reports. The court argued that the crimes were committed over the internet, in videos viewable around the world, making the offenses cross-border in nature. The defense objected to the transfer, and a final ruling was expected in late 2022, those reports said.

In a November 2022 email responding to CPJ’s queries about Karasira and other detained journalists, Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice said that none of the journalists had been charged or convicted of “offenses related to their purported journalistic activities” and that their cases “were conducted in full accordance” with Rwandan law.

The ministry added that Karasira had not asked the court to address his ill treatment, but that the courts rescheduled an unspecified hearing “to allow him to seek medical treatment” and ordered prosecutors to grant him access to all his files. The ministry said it could not comment further as the matter was before the courts. 

CPJ’s October and November 2022 emails to Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority did

not receive any replies. CPJ’s contacted National Public Prosecution Authority spokesperson Faustin Nkusi via messaging app in November 2022 but did not receive any response. Rwanda’s Correctional Service acknowledged receipt an email sent by CPJ in November 2022 but did not answer queries or provide comment.