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Rwanda shuts down independent press ahead of presidential elections

The last covers of Umuseso and Umuvugizi, for a while

The most recent covers of Umuseso and Umuvugizi (source: KigaliWire1, http://bit.ly/aTu5sN)

On April 13, 2010, President Paul Kagame and Rwanda’s High Media Council suspended independent Kinyarwanda language newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi at a press conference attended only by state broadcasters and the pro-government radio station Contact FM.

The High Media Council accused Umuseso of insulting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, inciting the police and army to insubordination, and frightening the public. The council is a nominally independent body heavily influenced by the government.

The six-month suspension will ensure that neither of the independent papers can cover this year’s presidential election with polls scheduled August 9th. Both criticize Kagame’s ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front Party.

Umuvugizi Editor Jean Bosco Gasasira said, “Almost 70% of Rwandans speak only Kinyarwanda, not English or French, and only 3% have internet access, so without these tabloid newspapers, they will have no independent news for the next six months. All they will know of the election is what the government newspapers tell them.”

“By silencing these two local-language newspapers the Media High Council is robbing Rwandan voters of crucial alternative voices during the presidential election campaign,” said Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes.. “The ruling is a thinly disguised attempt at censorship. If the election is to be seen as free and fair, the council must reverse this ruling and ensure that all media are able to cover the campaign.”

The council can legally suspend a weekly publication for a maximum of two weeks unless the paper is seen as a repeat offender, but this is a six-month suspension.

Several hours after the High Media Council announced the suspension of Umuseso and Umuvugizi, President Kagame said, at a speech in Rwanda’s Parliament:

“These newspapers have to stop, WILLINGLY or ELSE! That’s a promise I’m making you and it will happen. They have no right here, regardless of how the international community sees it or understands it. Let them believe whatever they want. And if they don’t like it, let them take those journalists in. They have no place here.

(Translated from the BBC-Rwanda’s Kinyarwanda language broadcast, by Robert Karenzi.)

However, in his commemoration address at the Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, on April 7th, President Kagame said he didn’t give a damn about critics, whom he said were abusing him by calling for political space and press freedom, even calling him “Hitler.”

[wpaudio url=”http://www.thepriceofuranium.com/images/mp3s/kagameonfreespeech.mp3″ text=”Listen to an audio clip of President Kagame’s remarks on press freedom” dl=”0″]

[wpaudio url=”http://www.thepriceofuranium.com/images/mp3s/kagamegenocidecommemorationspeech.mp3″ text=”Listen to the entire English language portion of Kagame’s address” dl=”0″]

On Wednesday, April 14th, AFP reported that the telephones at both newspapers had been switched off.

CPJ’s Tom Rhoades said that, “CPJ is also worried that the editors of these papers are under intense surveillance and are at risk. Umuvugizi Editor Jean Bosco Gasasira was brutally beaten with iron bars in 2007, and had to be rushed into intensive care.”

Umuseso Editor Didas Gasana contacted Digital Journal on April 13th, with the news that his paper had been suspended. Gasana traveled to Kampala, Uganda on the 14th, but said that he planned to return to Kigali next week. Umuseso Editor Charles Kabonero is living in exile in South Africa.

Déo Mushayidi, former President of the Rwanda Journalists’ Association, and co-author of Les Secrets du Genocide Rwandais, remains in a Rwandan prison, charged with terrorism, after his arrest in Burundi on March 6th, 2010.

[Annie Garrison – digitaljournal]

April 15, 2010   1 Comment

Rwanda defends suspension of two newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi; watchdog critical

KIGALI (Reuters) – Rwanda Wednesday said this week’s suspension of two newspapers was not politically motivated ahead of August’s presidential election but a media watchdog fiercely criticized the move.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) slammed the 6-month suspension, saying it was designed to silence media critics.

“This decision clearly aims to gag Rwanda’s main sources of independent news in the run-up to the August 2010 presidential election,” RSF said in a statement Wednesday.

“It suppresses all critical journalism and deprives Rwandans of an alternative to the state newspapers,” RSF added.

Freedom of speech remains a delicate issue in a country where corruption of the media and the political endorsement of ethnic hatred during the early 1990s led to genocide, following years of dictatorship.

Rwanda’s Media High Council said the decision to suspend the Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers was based on their erroneous content.

“We are acting on the basis of the content of the publications. Elections are months away,” said Patrice Mulama, Executive Secretary of Media High Council.

“This is not the first time we are suspending Umuseso for inciting the public. We suspended this paper in 2004 and 2009,” he said. “We are challenging the professionalism of these papers and we have a firm ground to explain the case at hand to court.”

[Reuters]
(Editing by Richard Lough and Simon Cameron-Moore)

April 15, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Editor Says Suspension of Paper Politically Motivated

Jean Bosco Gasasira says the suspension of Umuvugizi for six months is intended to silence him from covering Rwanda’s presidential election due in August.

[wpaudio url=”http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/dalet/butty-rwanda-media-gasasira-15april10.mp3″ text=”Listen: Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira spoke with Butty (VOA News)” dl=”0″]

Kigali – The editor of Rwanda’s Umuvugizi independent newspaper said the suspension of his paper is politically motivated.

Rwanda’s Media High Council earlier this week suspended Umuvugizi and Umuseso for six months on the grounds the two weeklies violated Rwanda’s media laws and incited public order.

Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira said the six-month suspension is intended to silence the two papers from covering Rwanda’s presidential elections scheduled for August this year.

As you know we are entering into election period; the election period is going to be in August, but campaign starts in May. The Media High Council suspended our newspapers before getting orders from the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, just hours before that, the president (Paul Kagame) said in parliament that he’s tired of the criticizing newspapers. He’s going to close it in good faith or by force,” he said.

The Chairman of the Rwanda Media High Council, Arthur Asiimwe, in announcing the suspension accused Umuvugizi and Umuseso of mixing news and opinions in their reporting.

Asiimwe reportedly said most of the articles written by the two newspapers since January this year were full of fabrications and were provocative.

Editor Gasasira described Asiimwe’s comments as false political allegations and propaganda.

He said the Media High Council is a tool of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party.

“In the constitution, the Media High Council is supposed to be independent. But it’s not independent of the ruling party; it’s not independent of the government; they are just a political tool,” Gasasira said.

Gasasira rejected assertions by Media High Council Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama that Umuvugizi and Umuseso failed to respond to warnings from the council about their reporting.

When a newspaper in Rwanda, according to the new media law, writes anything inciting or anything bad, the Media High Council summons them and forces them to make correction of that. When they refused, they are at least suspended for two months. Then if they repeat that, you suspend them for six months. Neither Umuseso nor Umuvugizi have never been summoned by the Media High Council officially nor suspended for two months which shows that this was politically motivated. They just want to eliminate us before the election campaign,” Gasasira said.

[wpaudio url=”http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/dalet/butty-rwanda-media-karugarama-15april10.mp3″ text=”Listen: Rwanda justice minister Karugarama spoke with Butty – VOA News” dl=”0″]

Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said the Media High Council acted within Rwandan laws when it suspended the two papers.

As far as I know from the legal point of view, the law on the media empowers the Media High Council to do that. The law provides both disciplinary and criminal proceedings. The penal code does indeed punish. Some of the utterances, some of the publications that the two papers were engaged in, I don’t think any criminal proceedings had been invoked at all. I think what has happened is that the Media High Council took disciplinary actions against the two papers,” Karugarama said.

Gasasira said President Paul Kagame had warned journalists critical of his government to leave Rwanda or face their papers being shut down.

But he said he’s not a coward and would not be driven into exile.

Right now when I’m talking to you, I’m a lamed person. My left hand side has a stroke when they tried to assassinate me in 2007. I’m living on medication; I’m a living person who has a lot of health problems because of my line of duty. So I’ve become a sacrifice of my work. So I don’t believe in escaping the country; I don’t believe being a coward. I will remain here,” Gasasira said.

Gasasira described as untrue allegations by Media High Council Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama that media criticism of the Kagame government could lead to decline in foreign investment in Rwanda.

He said most foreign embassies in Rwanda subscribe to Umuvugizi and Umuseso.

“Umuvugizi and Umuseso are the best selling newspapers in the country. They are the only independent newspapers in the country. All embassies subscribe, all investors subscribe. So let them say the true that they are tired of our criticizing, of our independent view and analysis,” Gasasira said.

Umuvugizi and Umuseso are known for their critical coverage of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party.

Both Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned the suspensions.

[James Butty – VOA News]

April 15, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda press gagged in run-up to polls

Kigali – Government has suspended two of Rwanda’s most outspoken newspapers for six months as the country gears up for presidential elections in August. The two weeklies are critical of the ruling party.

Rwanda’s Media High Council yesterday decided to suspend two independent weeklies in the run-up to presidential elections. At a press conference attended only by state broadcasters and the pro-government radio station ‘Contact FM’, the Media High Council announced an immediate six-month suspension of the private Kinyarwandan-language weeklies ‘Umuseso’ and ‘Umuvugizi’.

The council accused ‘Umuseso’ of insulting the head of state, inciting the police and army to insubordination, and creating fear among the public, council official Wilson Karamaga told the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The council, a nominally independent body heavily influenced by the government, did not link these accusations to any particular article in ‘Umuseso’ and did not specify the reasons for the suspension of ‘Umuvugizi’, local journalists said. ‘Umuseso’ and ‘Umuvugizi’ may challenge the council’s suspensions in court, Mr Karamaga said.

The six-month suspension will ensure both independent newspapers are unable to cover the presidential elections scheduled for August. Both weeklies are known for critical coverage of the ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, and its leader, President Paul Kagame.

CPJ today strongly condemned the suspension of the two Rwandan newspapers. “By silencing these two local-language newspapers the Media High Council is robbing Rwanda voters of crucial alternative voices during the presidential election campaign,” Tom Rhodes of the media watchdog group said.

“The ruling is a thinly disguised attempt at censorship. If the election is to be seen as free and fair, the council must reverse this ruling and ensure that all media are able to cover the campaign,” Mr Rhodes added.

The duration of the suspension raises questions as well, CPJ commented. The council can legally suspend a weekly publication for a maximum of two weeks unless the paper is seen as a repeat offender. ‘Umuseso’ Deputy Editor Didas Gasana said the paper has never been suspended before and should not face a six-month suspension under the law.

[Afrol News – April 14, 2010]

April 15, 2010   No Comments