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.
Karasira publishes political commentary on his YouTube channel Ukuri Mbona (The Truth as I See It), which he launched in 2011 and which has about 63,000 subscribers, according to media reports and CPJ’s review of the channel.
He also shares his opinions as a guest and commentator on other Rwandan YouTube channels, according to three people familiar with his work and with knowledge of his case, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. 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 for allegedly 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 of the people who spoke to CPJ. If convicted, each of those charges carry 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 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 and one of the people familiar with the case.
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, 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 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 journalist’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.
The three people who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity believed that Karasira’s arrest was retaliation for more than just the videos cited in court. On his YouTube channel, Karasira has interviewed prominent critics of the Rwandan government, including former opposition presidential aspirant Victoire Ingabire. Agence France-Presse reported that Rwandan police threatened to arrest Karasira in September 2020, after he interviewed Fred Sekikubo Barafinda, another former opposition presidential aspirant. In December 2020, Karasira claimed in a YouTube video that Rwandan police had summoned him and warned him to stop talking about the genocide, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Debating certain aspects of the 1994 genocide remains a fraught subject in Rwanda; CPJ’s 2014 research found that journalists frequently self-censored and that people expressing views that veer from the official narrative risked running afoul of authorities.
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 in his accounts, according to these same sources. Karasira’s defense team argued that the money had been sent by his supporters following his dismissal from the University of Rwanda; a GoFundMe Campaign in Karasira’s name raised about 7,000 euros (US$8,000) in donations. Karasira also claimed in court that an unnamed RIB officer had paid him some of the money, asking him to criticize the enemies of the government, according to reports by The Chronicles and BBC Gahuza.
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 his case.
In July 2021, Karasira’s lawyers argued that he should be freed on bail, partly due to concerns about his mental health, according to media reports, one of the people who spoke to CPJ anonymously, and the court documents that CPJ reviewed. The Nyarugenge court rejected this argument based on the state-ordered medical examination, and directed that Karasira remain behind bars for 30 days, according to media reports and the court documents.
In an August appeal for release, Karasira’s lawyers said he needed to go to a psychiatric hospital, according to a Voice of America report. On August 26, the court rejected the appeal and ordered Karasira to remain behind bars pending trial, according to another VOA report.
Karasira tested positive for COVID-19 while detained at Nyarugenge prison in Kigali, but he recovered after two weeks, according to one of the people who spoke to CPJ. In late 2021 he remained detained at that prison, awaiting a trial date to be set in his case, that person said.
In late 2021, CPJ repeatedly emailed the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, the Justice Ministry, the National Prosecution Authority, and judiciary spokesperson Harrison Mutabazi for comment but did not receive any responses. A person who answered the phone when CPJ called the RIB in October 2021 promised to respond to queries, which were also forwarded via WhatsApp, but had yet to do so in late 2021.
Faustin Nkusi, a spokesperson for the prosecution authority, did not respond to requests for comment sent by messaging app.