Internet users who enjoy spreading malicious rumours will soon have to think twice before they do so online or face jail time and hefty fines, thanks to a new law preventing and fighting cyber-crime.
Before it was unanimously passed by the Lower House yesterday, the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Education, Technology, Culture and Youth, Agnes Mukazibera told fellow lawmakers that the law was seeking to protect cyber users and at the same time discourage criminals who continue to take advantage of the growing internet user base to commit crimes.
“Cyber crime is on the rise as a result of latest advancements in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This law applies to all offences committed locally and internationally if they have a local impact,” she said.
Mukazibera told the MPs that the law had been thoroughly scrutinised to especially protect children.
“This draft was harmonised with the many laws that are connected to the protection of children. We felt that teachers should be trained on cyber safety so that, in their lessons, they can impart that information. Also, we catered for some people who spread false information on phone applications like WhatsApp. They will not get away with it,” she said.
What the law says
Article 39 of the law, which will come into force after the President has appended his signature, says that any person who, knowingly and through a computer system, publishes rumours that may incite fear, insurrection or violence amongst the population or that may make a person lose their credibility, commits an offence.
“When convicted, he or she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) years and not more than five (5) years with a fine of not less than one million Rwandan Francs (Rwf 1,000,000) and not more than three million Rwandan Francs (Rwf 3,000,000),” it reads in part.
The law is also going after cyber-stalkers who intentionally use the internet to harass or threaten with the intent to place another person in distress or fear.
“Anyone who displays, distributes or publishes indecent documents, sounds, pictures or videos, or takes pictures, videos or sounds of any person without his or her consent or knowledge or displays or distributes information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to any other person, commits an offence,” a section of the draft law further reads.
When convicted, the offender faces imprisonment of not less than six months but not exceeding two years with a fine of not less than Rwf1 million and not more than Rwf2 million.
The prosecution of offences under this article is instituted only upon complaint of the offended person. Article 38 of the same law also points out that any person who publishes, transmits or causes to be published any indecent information commits an offence.
If convicted, one is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than six months but not exceeding two years with a fine of not less than Rwf1 million but not exceeding Rwf2 million.
“If indecent information referred to is not true or is directed against a child, the offender is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than three years but not exceeding five years with a fine of not less than Rwf1 million but not exceeding Rwf3 million.”.
Since 2015, Rwanda has been on high cyber alert after the establishment of a cyber-security strategic plan making the country the second in East Africa after Kenya to launch a $3 million cybersecurity system aimed at protecting the public and private institutions against online crimes.
In 2016, Rwanda thwarted more than 1,000 cyber-attacks daily before they could affect targeted individuals, companies and institutions.
However, in the same year when National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) became a victim after about $516,000 earmarked to cover tuition for 14 Rwandan students in Nigeria, was diverted to an account in Spain.
Central bank statistics indicate that last year alone, they recorded about 150,000 network attacks and about eight million suspicious connections.
Over the last five years, Rwanda’s financial sector has recorded 705 fraud cases amounting to Rwf5.7bn.
Police last year registered 80 incidences involving about Rwf2.6bn, most of which they said was successfully recovered through joint efforts between the Police and Central Bank.
However, last year’s figure doubles the 2016 amounts which were about Rwf1.3bn which points to increased vulnerability and threats by fraudsters.