Friday 21 July 2017

Diplomats concerned over Rwanda social media controls

Diplomats concerned over Rwanda social media controls
(AFP 05/31/17)

Western diplomats in Rwanda voiced their concern on Tuesday over an order that presidential candidates must submit their social media messages to the country's election commission for pre-approval before dissemination.

"We are all concerned about this recent development and I think it is important to really understand what is behind this very, very serious limitation on the freedom of expression," said US ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles.

The envoy was speaking at a panel on human rights organised by the European Union and attended by foreign diplomats as well as Rwanda's justice minister.

The measure giving control over social media use to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will take effect at the start of the official campaign period on July 14 ahead of elections on August 4.

The rule states that all "messages, photographs and other campaign material" to be published on social networks must be submitted to the commission for approval at least 48 hours before they are due to be published.

It is aimed at "avoiding expressions, words, acts that can lead to acts of insecurity, the awakening of divisionism among the Rwandan population," said Kalisa Mbanda, election commission president.

Germany's ambassador Peter Woeste said other countries also faced problems of controlling hate speech, but asked whether "censorship [is] the way to go?" EU ambassador Michael Ryan described the measure as "too limiting".

Rwanda opposition figures have also criticised the move saying it will be used to block any criticism of President Paul Kagame who has been in charge of the country since 1994 and is running for a third term after changing the constitution to permit his candidacy.

Four opposition candidates are hoping to run against Kagame, if they are granted approval by the election commission.

While the constitution enshrines a multiparty system, there is virtually no opposition in the country, with the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) exerting total control over the political, social and economic spheres.

Since the end of the genocide, which killed around 800,000 people mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group in 1994, Rwanda has been praised for its economic performance and stability but criticised for its attacks and limitations on freedom of expression.

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