Rwandan security forces arrested journalist Théoneste Nsengimana in October 2021, and as of late 2021 he remained in detention awaiting trial on anti-state, incitement, and false news charges.
Nsengimana runs the YouTube channel Umubavu TV Online, which had over 16 million views as of November 2021 and features reporting and commentary on Rwandan politics, including interviews with opposition politicians.
Security personnel in the capital, Kigali, arrested Nsengimana on October 13, 2021, according to tweets by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), a law-enforcement body, as well as an interview with his wife, Chantal Umwari, published by the YouTube channel Ishema TV.
The day before his arrest, Nsengimana published a video on his YouTube channel announcing plans to air programming on October 14 as part of an event to commemorate the plight of political prisoners in Rwanda.
Prosecutors say that the video, and the event, called “Ingabire Day,” were part of a larger plot by the unregistered DALFA-Umurinzi party to overthrow the Rwandan government, according to documents related to the case, which CPJ reviewed. Prosecutors allege that the October 12 video posted on Umubavu Online TV spread falsehoods and aimed to incite the public by accusing the government of political killings and arbitrary detentions, according to those documents.
On the day of Nsengimana’s arrest, authorities also arrested at least nine members of the DALFA-Umurinzi party, according to those RIB tweets and that party’s leader Victoire Ingabire, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Authorities allege that DALFA-Umurinzi party members formulated a plot to overthrow the government in September discussions about Blueprint for a Revolution, a book about nonviolent activism, according to those documents, which stated that Nsengimana did not attend those discussions.
Nsengimana was initially detained at the Remera Police Station in Kigali, and made his first court appearance on October 28, according to media reports and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.
Nsengimana has been charged with membership in a criminal group, 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 in prison under the penal code; inciting unrest, which carries up to 15 years under the penal code; 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.
Rwandan authorities have repeatedly cracked down on YouTubers publishing critical content, according to media reports and CPJ research. In April 2020, Nsengimana was arrested and detained for several weeks on allegations of fraud, part of a broader wave of arrests of journalists reporting critically during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to media reports. He was later acquitted for lack of evidence, according to Human Rights Watch.
In a hearing on November 9, the Kicukiro District Court in Kigali denied Nsengimana and seven of his co-defendants bail, and ordered them to be held in Nyarugenge Prison in Kigali for 30 days, according to media reports.
CPJ emailed the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and the National Public Prosecution Authority for comment, but did not receive any replies. When CPJ called the RIB, a person answered the phone and said he would respond to CPJ’s emailed questions, but did not do so, and did not answer subsequent calls and a request sent via messaging app.
Faustin Nkusi, the spokesperson of Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority, did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls or messages seeking comment.