Rwandan security forces arrested Théoneste Nsengimana in October 2021 after he posted a video on his YouTube channel promoting an event to discuss political prisoners, organized by the unregistered opposition DALFA-Umurinzi party. As of late 2023, Nsengimana remained in detention awaiting trial on charges of spreading rumors and association with a criminal group, along with eight members of DALFA-Umurinzi, which is headed by leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Requests for the journalist to be released on bail were declined.
Nsengimana runs the YouTube channel Umubavu TV Online, which in late 2023 had over 120,000 subscribers to its critical reporting and commentary on Rwandan politics, including interviews with opposition politicians.
On October 13, 2021, officers with the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) arrested Nsengimana and five others for spreading rumors with the aim of causing public disorder, the national law enforcement agency posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The previous day, Nsengimana published a video on his YouTube channel promoting a program and event on October 14, 2021, to commemorate political prisoners in Rwanda called “Ingabire Day”—in reference to Ingabire, who returned to Rwanda from exile in The Netherlands in 2010, to vie for the presidency, and was then jailed for eight years.
Prosecutors said that Nsengimana’s video and the event were part of a plot by Ingabire’s DALFA-Umurinzi party to overthrow the government, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ. Prosecutors also said that Nsengimana’s video spread falsehoods and aimed to incite the public by accusing the government of political killings and arbitrary detentions, those documents added.
Prosecutors argued that DALFA-Umurinzi party members formulated a plot to overthrow the government in September discussions about the book “Blueprint for a Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World,” according to those documents, which stated that Nsengimana did not attend those discussions.
In an October 2021 court document, reviewed by CPJ, prosecutors said Nsengimana and eight other detained people, all members of DALFA-Umurinzi and associates of Ingabire, were under investigation on four charges: joining a criminal association, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years under Rwanda’s penal code; dissemination of false information or propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against Rwanda’s government, also punishable by up to 10 years; inciting unrest, which carries up to 15 years; and spreading rumors, which carries up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 3 million Rwandan francs (US$3,000) under Rwanda’s cybercrimes law.
A March 2022 court document, reviewed by CPJ in 2023, indicated that Nsengimana was no longer charged with inciting unrest or disseminating false information, but the other two charges of joining a criminal association and spreading rumors remained.
Nsengimana had been detained before. In April 2020, he was held for several weeks on allegations of fraud, as part of a broader wave of arrests of journalists reporting critically during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to media reports.
In 2021, the Kicukiro District Court in Kigali denied Nsengimana and seven co-defendants bail and ordered them to be held in Nyarugenge Prison in Kigali, according to media reports. In 2022, another request for bail was also denied, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ.
As of late 2023, Nsengimana remained in detention awaiting trial, according to Ingabire and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns. Eight DALFA-Umurinzi members remained as co-defendants in the case, Ingabire told CPJ.
In a November 2022 email to CPJ, the Ministry of Justice said that the cases against Nsengimana 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.”
As of late 2023, CPJ’s emails to Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice and National Prosecution Authority did not receive any replies.