Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
July 14, 2010
The unrepentant regime of Rwanda carries out a systematic offensive against the country´s mass media, involving all types of persecution, extrajudicial killings and other atrocities.
The traumatic experience lived by the indigenous peoples and the ongoing sociopolitical drama constitute good reasons for the international community to ostracize Rwanda until the loathsome Kigali regime is removed.
Under such circumstances, it becomes very clear that Rwanda´s signature in the bogus-agreement on he Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (14 May) has absolutely no validity, merely reflecting the choices of an inhuman outcast of the international community.
To shed more light on the recent developments that turn Rwanda to a large jail, I republish three reports recently released by the leading NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), plus the RSF 2008 Annual Report´s chapter on Rwanda which offers a sheer perspective of deterioration of the sociopolitical situation over the past two years. The point is when the international community will take action against Rwanda.
Offensive against media continues with arrest of fortnightly´s editor
Reporters Without Borders calls on the European Union and other international donors to suspend their assistance to the Rwandan government and to stop providing financial support for the 9 August presidential election following a series of grave press freedom violations, the latest of which was a newspaper editor´s arrest last week.
"How much longer will the international community continue to endorse this repressive regime?" Reporters Without Borders asked. "The international community is becoming its accomplice by supporting next month´s election, for which the preparations are being accompanied by widespread harassment and abuses. If the European Union stopped disbursing its funding, it would be clear sign of opposition to the Rwandan government´s practices."
Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned fortnightly Umurabyo, was arrested on 8 July and placed in pre-trial detention in Kigali´s Remera police station in connection with the publication of several stories on "sensitive" subjects.
They included articles in the last two issues analysing and raising questions about the murder of Umuvugizi editor Jean-Léonard Rugambage and the attempted murder of an exiled Rwandan military officer, Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, in South Africa.
Charged with inciting civil disobedience, insulting the president, spreading false rumours and denying the Tutsi genocide, Nkusi is expected to be brought to trial soon. Her arrest could pave the way for the fortnightly´s permanent closure.
Nkusi previously received a one-year jail sentence on charges of "sectarianism" and "defamation" in 2007, serving the entire sentence. More informations.
Her arrest last week follows Rugambage´s murder in June, the blocking of the Umuvugizi website, and the closure of Rwanda´s two leading independent newspapers, Umuvugizi and Umuseso, for six months. For more information about these violations.
Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This was the fourth lowest ranking in Africa, above only Eritrea, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea. President Kagame has for years been on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom.
Newspaper´s deputy editor gunned down outside home in Kigali
Reporters Without Borders is shocked and outraged to learn that Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the deputy editor of the fortnightly Umuvugizi, was gunned down outside his home in Kigali at about 11 p.m. on 24 June. He was the first journalist to be murdered in Rwanda since Emmanuel Munyemanzi in 1998.
"We have for months being condemning the climate of terror in Rwanda, the escalating repression of independent journalists and totalitarian tendencies," Reporters Without Borders said. "It seems that newspaper closures, trials of journalists and blocking of websites have not been enough to elicit a reaction from the international community. Will this tragic development finally open the eyes of those who support this government?"
The press freedom organisation added: "As the August presidential election approaches, the government is organising a tightly controlled and monolithic electoral campaign in which all sources of criticism are being suppressed. This undertaking seems to have culminated in the ambushing and murder of this renowned journalist."
In a resumption of diplomatic relations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali in February and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, attended the Africa-France summit in Nice on 31 May and 1 June.
Reporters Without Borders believes that dialogue cannot be resumed unless particular attention is paid to press freedom and it therefore calls on the French authorities and the European Union delegation in Kigali to ensure that an independent investigation is carried out into this murder. Monitoring this case should be a priority for France´s ambassador to Kigali, Laurent Contini.
Rugambage was slain by four shots fired at close range by gunmen who have yet to be identified. The police took his body away to carry out an autopsy. Also known as "Sheriff," he left a wife and two-year-old child. His murder has caused shock and dismay in both Rwanda and abroad.
"Jean-Léonard was without doubt killed as a result of his coverage of last week´s attempted murder of Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa in exile in South Africa," Reporters Without Borders was told by Jean-Bosco Gasasira, his newspaper´s editor, who is himself in exile.
Rugambage reported that telephone calls were made between Rwandan intelligence chief Emmanuel Ndahiro and the Rwandan citizens who were arrested in South Africa after the shooting attack on Gen. Nyamwasa. In a story about the shooting in Le Monde on 22 June, headlined "Rwandan stray bullets," French journalist Jean-Philippe Rémy wrote: "It is not easy to say what distinguishes Rwanda from a full-blown dictatorship."
Rugambage had experienced several run-ins with the authorities. Accused of murder during the genocide and then sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of court, he was detained for 11 months in 2005 and 2006 before finally being acquitted. He edited Umuco for a long time before joining Umuvugizi.
He was also the Rwanda correspondent of the regional press freedom organisation Journalist in Danger (JED). "He told things as he felt them," said a journalist who participated with him in a workshop in Brazzaville in 2007 for JED´s regional correspondents. "He was a very committed guy who paid with his life for his courage as a reporter. He did not beat about the bush, unlike some of his Rwandan colleagues."
Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 179 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This was the fourth lowest ranking in Africa, above only Eritrea, Somali and Equatorial Guinea. President Kagame has for years been on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom.
Persecution of independent newspapers extended to online versions
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about the harassment of independent newspapers in Rwanda after learning that access to the Umuvugizi news website has been blocked in Rwanda since 3 June on the orders of the Media High Council.
Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira launched the website on 21 April, one week after the Media High Council suspended the print version of his fortnightly newspaper for six months on 13 April. The weekly Umuseso was suspended at the same time.
The executive secretary of the Media High Council, which regulates the media under the supervision of the president´s office, had announced that the Umuvugizi website would be blocked shortly after its launch, arguing that banned newspapers were also banned online.
"The censorship of these newspapers, whether they appear online or in print form, constitutes a crude act of manipulation in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for 9 August," Reporters Without Borders said. "President Paul Kagame´s government, which had already deployed a large arsenal of measures to gag the press, has set a disturbing precedent by blocking this website," the press freedom organisation added. "The regime has shown it is able to innovate in order to pursue its long-standing obsession about controlling news and information."
Gasasira told Reporters Without Borders: "Blocking Umuvugizi´s website very clearly shows that President Kagame does not want independent media in Rwanda and will not allow his own people to express views or publish independent news reports by means of journalism."
He said he thought the site was blocked as a result of an article portraying Kagame as one of the world´s most corrupt dictators and contrasting his acquisition of two jets for 100 million dollars with the fact that 60 per cent of the government´s budget comes from foreign donations while the population is hit by poverty and AIDS.
When the Media High Council suspended Umuseso and Umuvugizi in April, it accused them of "inciting insubordination in the army and police regarding orders from superiors," publishing "information that endangers public order," rumour mongering, defamation and invasion of privacy. But it did not cite any articles to support these charges.
Gasasira set up the website after moving to Uganda because he was being harassed and was getting threatening letters in Rwanda. The website is being blocked inside Rwanda by Internet Service Providers such as MTN and Rwandatel, but it is still accessible outside the country.
Last year, Gasasira was convicted on charges of defamation and invasion of privacy. He was also attacked and beaten unconscious.
Rwanda has the fourth lowest ranking in Africa in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index while President Kagame is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Predators of Press Freedom."