Rwanda’s recent history is dominated by Hutu/Tutsi ethnic tensions leading to the Rwandan Civil War and subsequent 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. Under a new penal code, “insult” to religion is punishable with fines.

Despite a largely secular constitution, the non-religious are excluded from the language on freedom of “religion or faith”. Society is very religious and in practice religion is privileged in law.

The new penal code establishes fines of 20,000 to one million Rwandan francs (US$30 to $1,590) and imprisonment from eight days to five years for anyone who hinders free practice of religion. While this alone might protect specifically religious freedoms, the law also criminalises anyone who publicly “humiliates” rites, symbols, or objects of religion, or “insults”, threatens, or physically assaults a religious leader.

Though this law appears designed to protect freedom of worship it seems to conflate obvious crimes like physical assault with issues of free expression or protest, and clearly risks over-extension and could be interpreted as a de facto blasphemy law.