Social media was set ablaze on Thursday after news surfaced that a woman could be sentenced to 2 years in prison for ‘indecent dressing’ in Kigali, Rwanda.
Lilliane Mugabekazi, the 24-year-old defendant, attended Tayc’s music concert in a sheer net dress on July 30. However, she was not arrested till August 7 after a picture of her surfaced on social media and caught the attention of the authorities.
Mugabekazi is being tried on grounds of “public indecency”, and could face six months to two years in prison if convicted.
This is in accordance with the Law Determining Offenses and Penalties in Rwanda, Article 143 which states:
“Any person who performs an indecent act in public, commits an offense. Upon conviction, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than six months and not more than two years”.
On Thursday, a judge at Kicukiro Primary court declined to grant her bail, per the prosecution’s request.
“She attended the concert while wearing clothes that reveal her private parts… clothes that we call shameful. It is on these serious grounds that we ask the court to remand Mugabekazi for 30 days,” said the prosecutors.
Faustin Nkusi, the spokesman for the prosecution, told AFP that the court would announce their bail decision on Tuesday.
A Case of Human Rights Violation?
Several Africans have taken to social media to bash the Rwandan authorities for the arrest, arguing that is a violation of her basic human right to “choice and bodily autonomy”, and a possible reflection of an authoritarian regime.
Some have even called the “progressive” status donned on the East African nation a façade.
“Isn’t Rwanda touted for having a female majority parliament?? Where are these so called leaders when we need them?? How can a 24 year old girl go to jail because of her choice of clothes??? This is so pathetic,” Twitter user, @sonittaaa angrily expressed.
Another Twitter user, @mugishajessy, made a call to the public to fight for Mugabekazi. “Fighting for her is fighting for yourself,” he appealed.
The #FreeLiliane tag has since gained traction on Twitter, with several people all over Africa joining the online movement.
Conversely, some have publicly lambasted what they deem the deterioration of morality in society.
“The current issue of our young men and women who drink and drug themselves unconscious, appear in public literally naked is objectionable,” tweeted Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s former justice minister and current ambassador to Britain.
“I think Rwanda did the right thing to arrest this lady. That level of indecency is intolerable. Uganda should borrow a leaf. Morals first,” said Twitter user @milespatric0.
In a TV interview last week, police spokesman John Bosco Kabera admonished what he called “immorality and indecency among young people”. When the TV host asked him if “such people did not have a right to dress as they please,” he responded by saying, “The first right is to dress well, not dressing indecently.”
However, this is indeed a blatant violation of Mugabekazi’s human rights.
Amnesty International, an NGO which campaigns to end human rights abuse states:
“Under international human rights law everyone has the rights to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs. The way people dress can be an important expression of their religious, cultural or personal identity or beliefs. As a general rule, the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression entail that all people should be free to choose what - and what not – to wear. Governments have an obligation to respect, protect and ensure every individual’s right to express their beliefs or personal convictions or identity. They must create an environment in which every person can make that choice free of coercion.”
Unfortunately, this arrest is not the first of its kind in Rwanda.
In 2020, three women who posted videos of themselves naked on Instagram were sentenced to 36 months in prison. They were charged with publishing scandalous videos about sex and drug use.
Just in March this year, a 20-year-old woman was arrested for “public drunkenness and indecent assault” after a video of her lying on the ground in a drunken state surfaced on social media.
The extent of women’s rights protection in Africa’s most gender-equal country is therefore, worth questioning.
Sources: The East Africa, Channels TV