The past week has seen two countries strike at the ability of their citizens to hold their governments to account.
Their common tool is obfuscation. Last week, Rwanda passed a law targeting cartoons or articles that “humiliate” public officials. The punishment is up to two years in prison and a fine of $1,145 (more if offenders target a member of Parliament). But it isn’t clear who gets to judge. And as Gonza Muganwa of the Rwanda Journalists Association put it: “In the trade of journalism, cartoons are by nature humorous and therefore easy for leaders to perceive them negatively….”
Egypt also moved to silence embarrassing commentary. In May, Amal Fathy was arrested after posting a video on Facebook criticizing public services and recounting her experience of sexual harassment. On Saturday, she received a two-year jail sentence and fine for “spreading false news,” even though 99 percent of Egyptian women report having been sexually harassed.
As with Rwanda, the threat to citizens is the use of arbitrary enforcement that chills initiative to hold officials accountable or promote reform. Mohamed Lofty, Ms. Fathy’s husband and director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, called the judgment “incomprehensible.” He added, “This means we are telling all Egyptian women 'shut your mouths … if you don’t want to go to prison.' ”
Now to our five stories, underscoring the importance of political ideals, artistic drive, and civic-mindedness.