By Emmanuel Nduka
A Rwandan nonconformist who used his YouTube channel to criticise the Government of President Paul Kagame has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a court in Kigali.
Dieudonne Niyonsenga who has a large YouTube audience of over 15 million views, is the latest to be jailed in the tightly controlled East African nation, ruled by the same leader for nearly three decades.
“We are appealing this verdict against Niyonsenga with immediate effect. It is simply not right,” his lawyer Gatera Gashabana said on Friday.
Niyonsenga was found guilty on Thursday on four charges including forgery, impersonation, and “humiliating” state officials.
“The court finds that the crimes Niyonsenga is accused of were committed intentionally.
“Due to the adverse consequences that his crimes have had on Rwandan society, the court orders that Dieudonne Niyonsenga be immediately arrested and taken to serve his jail sentence,” the judge said in delivering the verdict and a fine of five million Rwandan francs ($4,900).
However, Niyonsenga was not present in court and shortly after the verdict, the YouTube star was arrested.
“It is true that Dieudonne Niyonsenga was arrested yesterday in execution of the court judgment. He is in the process of being transferred” to prison, Thierry Murangira, spokesman for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, told AFP.
Popularly known by his YouTube persona Cyuma, which means “Iron”, Niyonsenga was known for discussing human rights abuses on his channel.
In April 2020 he broadcast a series of videos accusing soldiers of serious abuses against slum dwellers during the enforcement of a strict coronavirus lockdown, after which he was arrested and charged with violating the lockdown and impersonating a journalist and sent to prison.
He was later acquitted and released 11 months later but prosecutors appealed to a higher court.
Other Cases In Rwanda
The social media critic’s jailing comes weeks after another high-profile critic with a YouTube following was sent to prison.
Yvonne Idamange, a mother of four, was jailed for 15 years in October for inciting violence online.
Also, Aimable Karasira, a university lecturer with a YouTube channel, was arrested in June this year and charged with genocide denial, a serious crime in Rwanda.
He had accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which has ruled the country since 1994 under Kagame, of trampling on human rights.
Another YouTuber with a popular following told AFP a government official warned them to stop “this YouTube nonsense or face the consequences”.
The crackdown on YouTube creators has had a chilling effect in Rwanda, where independent media has been quashed and other forms of free expression are strictly monitored by the government.