Aimable Karasira Uzaramba, a YouTube political commentator, was arrested in 2021 on charges of genocide denial, genocide justification, and inciting divisions, each of which carries a penalty of seven years in jail. In 2023, prosecutors added charges of illicit enrichment and embezzlement, and money laundering. Karasira has alleged that he was mistreated, beaten, and denied medical care in prison, and his defense has argued that the journalist was not fit to stand trial because of mental illness but these claims were rejected. His trial began in November 2023.
In 2011, Karasira launched the YouTube channel Ukuri Mbona (The Truth as I See It) and had published over 200 videos, including political commentary, with about 63,000 subscribers, at the time of his arrest, according to CPJ’s review.
On May 31, 2021, officers with the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) arrested Karasira for the crimes of denying and justifying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and of inciting division in his social media commentary, the national law enforcement agency posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
In July 2021, Kigali’s Nyarugenge Intermediate Court charged Karasira, who is Tutsi, with denial of the genocide, justification of the genocide, and instigating divisions, according to news reports and court documents reviewed by CPJ. These crimes are punishable by up to seven years in prison each and fines of up to 1 million Rwandan francs (US$800), according to Rwanda’s Law on Genocide Ideology and penal code.
In June 2023, prosecutors introduced an additional charge of illicit enrichment and embezzlement, according to media reports. In November 2023, prosecutors added a further charge of money laundering, according to several media reports. Prosecutors said that during a 2021 search of Karasira’s residence they had found over US$10,000, which he had been unable to account for.
Rwanda’s genocide laws aim to prevent hate speech, which played a significant role in the country’s 1994 genocide, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. The laws have also been criticized by human rights and free speech advocates as being so broad as to stifle freedom of expression.
Prosecutors accused Karasira of saying that the genocide was not planned—a crime under the genocide law—but that it was an act of self-defense by the Hutu government in response to the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front’s (RPF) 1990 invasion, according to news reports and court documents reviewed by CPJ.
The genocide began in April 1994 when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and ended 100 days later when the RPF took control of the capital, Kigali, and formed a political party, which continues to rule Rwanda.
In court documents, reviewed by CPJ, prosecutors cited at least three videos published in 2021: a May 15 video on Pax TV, a May 20 video on Ukuri Mbona, and a May 23 video on Umurabyo Online TV, without providing links.
In 2021, CPJ reviewed several May 2021 videos in which Karasira made comments echoing the prosecution’s allegations on the privately owned YouTube channels Ukuri Mbona, Pax TV-Ireme News and. The third is no longer online.
In the videos, Karasira expressed support for the political opposition and hatred of President Paul Kagame and the ruling RPF, whose forces he accused of killing his parents in 1994. He also claimed that gacaca courts—community-based courts that tried more than 1 million people after the genocide—had convicted people for crimes they did not commit. In addition, Karasira accused authorities of conflating critical political opinions with genocide ideology and of carrying out political assassinations.
Karasira’s defense team said that his judgment was compromised by mental illness when he made the videos and requested that he be freed on bail to receive treatment, according to multiple media reports, the two people familiar with the case, and court documents.
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, those sources said.
In mid-2022, Karasira told the court that he could not stand trial because prison officials were beating him, depriving him of sleep, and denying him adequate food and treatment for his diabetes and mental illness, according to multiple media reports. Karasira’s defense said prison officials were interfering in confidential client-lawyer communications, according to court transcripts reviewed by CPJ.
In a November 2022 email to CPJ, the Ministry of Justice said that the cases against Karasira and other detained journalists in Rwanda were “conducted in full accordance” with the law and that none of their “offenses related to their purported journalistic activities.” The ministry said Karasira had not sought remedy from the courts for his alleged ill-treatment.
In response to defense arguments that Karasira was not fit to stand trial, the court ordered another medical examination. In May 2023, a psychiatrist diagnosed Karasira with depression, anxiety, and paranoid personality disorder, and recommended treatment in a psychiatric facility, according to media reports and a copy of the medical report, reviewed by CPJ.
CPJ’s late 2023 emails to the National Public Prosecution Authority, Correctional Service, and Ministry of Justice did not receive any replies.