Rwanda Parliament passes Bill to amend genocide law

KIGALI (AFP) - Rwanda's Lower House has passed a Bill amending a law against "genocide ideology" that had been criticised as muzzling free speech and suppressing opposition, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.

Rwanda adopted the original law in 2008, 14 years after extremists from the Hutu majority killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in one of the worst genocides in history.

But rights groups had criticised the law as overly vague and said it was being used to crack down on opposition to the regime of President Paul Kagame, who led a Tutsi rebellion to take power in 1994 and end the genocide.

The new draft law would mean criminal intent must be proved, while an act of inciting genocide must be carried out in front of more than one person, said Mr Francois Byabarumwanzi, the chair of the parliamentary committee on unity, human rights and the fight against genocide, which is examining the bill.

Mr Byabarumwanzi told AFP the Bill had passed in the Lower House on Monday with "no opposition".

It must now be considered by the Senate, Rwanda's Upper House.

The Bill would punish only "an intentional act" in public, whether in a speech, writing, video or other medium.

The action must be "characterised by thoughts based on ethnicity, religion, nationality or race to foment genocide and/or support genocide", it reads.

Prison sentences were also reduced from 25 years to a maximum of nine, in line with a new penal code that has lowered sentences in general.

Ms Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch said the amended law was a "clear improvement", noting the "need to demonstrate intention behind the crime".

However, she said it could be improved by making the final version clarify distinctions "between a private conversation and public speech".