M28 Investigates co-founder Byansi Samuel Baker early this month petitioned the highest court of the land challenging three laws that, according to him, hinder press freedom in Rwanda.
“The petition was submitted on 2nd May 2021, one day ahead of celebrations of the World Press Freedom and we were given a provisional case number,” Byansi said.
The laws being challenged are the 2018 Law determining offenses and penalties in general, the 2013 Media Law and the 2019 law relating to the criminal procedure.
Byansi is contesting articles that criminalize privacy intrusion, audio and visual recording in court hearings without the judge’s authorization, among others.
“As M28 Investigates we do undercover journalism where one has to take pictures and record videos clandestinely, but the law says you can’t take someone’s picture without their consent,” Byansi said.
“The existing legal environment doesn’t allow for that kind of journalism yet it is very much helpful when it comes to exposing abuses of power and betrayal of public trust”, he added.
Article 136 of the criminal procedure law says that authorization to take audio or visual records in a court hearing is applied for in writing at least forty-eight (48) hours before the hearing.
“I was denied that permission several times. When you apply, the judge reserves the right to give you the permission or refuse, and that poses a significant handicap to press freedom”, Byansi noted.
He is the first media practitioner to ever petition the Supreme Court in Rwanda.
In 2018, lawyer Mugisha Richard from Trust Law Chambers filed a successful penal code petition that also partly pushed for more press freedom.
Thanks to that petition, defamation against public officials was decriminalized in the April 2019 court verdict.
The petition got ample media coverage and public attention since no private citizen had ever before petitioned the Supreme Court on a constitutional matter outside a legal proceeding.
“I hope this petition of ours will also yield positive results,” Byansi concluded.