Rwanda National Police (RNP) says it will continue to enforce the law on public indecency and called on parents to educate their children so that they don’t unknowingly find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
The call followed an ongoing debate on the enforcement of the law, with women particularly accusing law enforcement organs of policing what women should wear or not.
Police reiterated its position following social media outcry in relation to the detention and subsequent charging of Liliane Mugabekazi, a 24-year old woman whose photo went viral recently after she appeared at a concert dressed in revealing clothes. In a tweet posted on Thursday, Police indicated that it will not relent in its efforts to crackdown on public indecency.
“#RwandaPolice reminds the public that nudity, public indecency and serving alcohol to underage children is punishable by law. We urge parents to educate and protect their children from these acts,” RNP tweeted on Thursday as the debate raged on on social media.
Mugabekazi, who was arrested on August 7 after the photo from the July 30 concert at BK Arena became the talk of town, appeared in Kicukiro Primary Court on Thursday, August 18, where she was charged with public indecency under article 143 of the penal code which says that any person who performs an indecent act
in public, commits an offence. Upon conviction, is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than 6 months and not more than 2 yrs.
Prosecution asked the court to remand Mugabekazi for 30 days as investigations continue. Mugabekazi pleaded not guilty to the charge, stating that she was not the one who took the photo and circulated it and that she couldn’t have accessed the venue if she was naked or indecent as it is alleged because she went through security checks on the way to the concert of French-Cameroonian singer TayC at the end of July.
Mugabekazi through her lawyer said that the photo was taken while she was not aware, at a time when she had opened her coat in excitement during the concert, revealing the see-through jumpsuit she was wearing on the inside. She added that security wouldn’t have allowed her in had she been ‘naked’ as it is alleged.
Prosecution argued that she should be held on remand for 30 days, a development which angered many social media users, particularly women, who felt that the decision was harsh as the law is vague on what can be termed as decent or indecent. Many took to social media to question what the parameters for indecency are while others decried what they called the policing of women’s bodies.
The debate on the dress code has pitted women rights activists against government officials, the church and custodians of culture, who insist that the country must observe considerable levels of decency especially among the youth who they say are increasingly getting exposed to western culture and influences.
The development has sparked a huge debate with government officials remaining steadfast in their efforts to enforce decency despite pressure, especially from young people on social media who are opposing the move by government institutions to rein in what they describe as growing cases of indecency and alcoholism among the youth.
Last week, the Spokesperson of RNP, CP John Bosco Kabera, while appearing on Rwanda Television (RTV) emphasized the need for a decent dress code among the youth attending concerts and urged show organisers to start asking for IDs especially from young people to ascertain their age and identity before they could enter the venue or before allowing them to buy alcohol.
CP Kabera said that while people have the right to wear what they want, the first right is to be publicly decent, a position which was reiterated by the Minister of Local Government, Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, who said that indecent dressing among the youth has become a serious challenge and parents need to have a hand in guiding their children on how to dress decently.
“If your child is almost naked and you don’t do anything about it as a parent, it becomes a challenge. You need to talk to them and teach them our cultural values. We have a culture, whether you advance and travel to America, you have national values to respect,”
“There are certain things that give you value in the community. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve or do whatever you want to do with decency. You don’t have to be naked to do that,” Minister Gatabazi said last week.
On the day Mugabekazi was arraigned in court, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Rosemary Mbabazi, called on the youth to desist from engaging in practices that don’t add value to their lives such as indecent dressing, alcoholism and drug abuse, among other behaviors, which don’t align with national values and culture. Minister Mbabazi made the call while officiating at a Roman Catholic Church Youth conference in Kabgayi Diocese, Muhanga district, in the Southern Province
Proponents of the move such as human rights lawyer and political commentator, Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza, say that law enforcement organs are operating within their right to enforce a decent dress code because dressing well is a virtue that the country must uphold as a civilized society based on values.
He however added that the law has to respond to the calls of the youth to define what indecency is.
Mugabekazi vs Prosecution is likely to set a precedent on what the definition of decency or indecency is when it returns to court. Her lawyer requested court to hear her case in camera. Earlier court had denied her bail but on Thursday evening some reports indicated that she had been released on bail as the court awaits to pronounce itself on her case on August 23, 2022.