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PR firm BTP Advisers exposed over Rwanda Genocide (video)

Video: BTP Advisers exposed – published by
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

In this video, you watch and listen to Mark Pursey, head of public relations BTP Advisers, saying that they created an internet “attack site” for the government of Rwanda over accusations it had been involved in genocide.
Here is what James Cusick ‘The Independent‘ writes about it:

Mark Pursey, head of BTP Advisers, was secretly recorded saying that the site was targeted at people who “over-criticised” over “who did what in the genocide”. A 2009 report from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said Rwanda’s “excellent public relations machinery” had succeeded in hiding “the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime”.

Mr Pursey, who was the voluntary head of the Liberal Democrats’ National Media Intelligence Unit during the 2010 election, suggested his firm could create a similar site for the Uzbeks – who were in fact undercover reporters working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Such a site, he added, could be “aggressive” in terms of putting across figures showing that things were “moving in the right direction”. Also at the meeting was Edward Lord, a member of the City of London Corporation, who attended at Mr Pursey’s request.

As part of its investigation into lobbying for The Independent, reporters from the BIJ posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan and representatives of the country’s cotton industry, to discover what promises British lobbying and PR firms were prepared to make when pitching to clients. Mr Pursey said his firm was working for the government of Azerbaijan, which he described as having “its own set of very complex issues” and appeared to revel in the controversial nature of his accounts. “We already work for other governments as well … Azerbaijan, Rwanda, we also do work for the Ivory Coast – the new one, not the old one . We also do work for – just started, in fact – the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.

“The issues of what’s happening for instance in Ivory Coast is very controversial with accusations of genocide on both sides. The government of Rwanda is itself enormously controversial, it’s very uncertain what their role was in the deaths that occurred around the time of the genocide.”

He later added: “If I wanted an easy life I’d do PR for housing associations.”

Mr Pursey suggested setting up an internet site “like an Uzbek fact-check about the industry”, adding that he could also create attack sites aimed at critics. He said: “I think articles saying how marvellous everything is [is] jumping the gun because it’s not true and they [people] won’t accept it. So I think that things such as working through the internet, setting up things like an Uzbek fact-check about the industry, could be a resource for people online that could render better articles.

“Then a separate site, this is a similar sort of work we’ve done with the Rwandans, for instance. We had a very controversial issue over who did what in the genocide. So the second site being much more a kind of attack site on people who over-criticise.”

Mr Pursey suggested recruiting Uzbek students to comment on articles critical of the regime. “What we would need to do is find a group of people who have an interest in this subject that would include us, that would include Uzbek students living in London … who, when an article comes up that’s wrong, could be alerted about it. We could suggest to them what they might want to say in response to an article through a post, a suggestion.” He added that this could affect newspaper coverage. “Once we’ve started to nudge up some of the stories to become not so damning, more positive, then we can start looking at addressing issues such as going to the newspapers and saying that people are saying rather different things about this issue than they were six months ago.”

Contacted by the Bureau yesterday, Mr Pursey said: “We helped create a site that outlined facts about the government of Rwanda, and most governments have them. This [sic] UN published a report that many academics and commentators agreed was extremely poorly researched yet made very alarming allegations … its accusations towards others should be scrutinised.”

On the company’s work in Azerbaijan, he said: “An issue such as the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh that cost 80,000 lives and the internal displacement of over 1 million refugees is one of these very complexities, yet rarely reported. Rebuilding the lives and families of the survivors has been a massive financial and social challenge, and one that should be given the understanding and support it deserves.”

Mr Lord said in a statement: “No payment or preferment of any kind was received by me, or any organisation I have involvement with, as a result of participating in the meeting, nor was any expected.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a partner or a non-executive director in BTP Advisers. This can be confirmed by reference to records held at Companies House. I attended the meeting as a personal favour to Mr Pursey.'”

No thanks: Firms that rejected the job

During the undercover investigation into lobbying, 10 firms were contacted. Two of these, Morris International Associates and Ogilvy, immediately refused to accept the business from the Uzbek regime, which is responsible for grave human rights abuses.

An hour-long meeting with Ann Morris, director of Morris International, where the undercover reporters tried to convince the company it should represent Uzbekistan, ended in a formal rejection.

No official response to The Independent’s exposé yesterday was made by Morris International. But an account of the meeting by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that it took less than 10 minutes for the firm to make it clear that they were unwilling to take on the regime as their client.

It was explained during the hour-long meeting that one ofthe requirements was online “reputational management” – to which Bell Pottinger agreed in its own meetings with the reporters. Morris International made itclear this was something theywere not prepared to engage in.

The approach to a second firm, Ogilvy PR, never turned into an actual meeting. An initial connection was made by email and subsequently followed up with a telephone call. This lasted less than two minutes and the rejection of the request was quick and clear.

The BIJ said that at no point did either of the two companies make it known that they felt a “sting” was in operation. Their rejection was based on what they were being asked to do.

December 7, 2011   No Comments

Revealed: UK PR firm ‘attacked’ critics of Rwandan government

PR firm ‘attacked’ critics of Rwandan government

December 6th, 2011 | by Melanie Newman

A public relations firm whose senior management have close links to the Liberal Democrats said it had created an internet ‘attack site’ for the government of Rwanda to counter accusations that it had been involved in genocide.

Mark Pursey, head of BTP Advisers, was secretly recorded as part of the Bureau’s investigation into lobbying and PR, saying that the site was targeted at those who ‘over-criticised’ over ‘who did what in the genocide’.

A 2009 report from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said Rwanda’s ‘excellent public relations machinery’ had succeeded in hiding ‘the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime’.

Mr Pursey, who was head of the Lib Dems’ National Media Intelligence Unit during the 2010 election, suggested his firm could create a similar site for the government of Uzbekistan.

Such a site, he added, could be ‘aggressive in terms of putting across facts and figures showing that things were moving in the right direction’.

If I wanted an easy life I’d do PR for housing association. 
Mark Pursey, BTP Advisers

He said: ‘If people are using child labour in Uzbekistan to pick cotton, and it’s true, then there’s no point in denying it. We have to look to show, as you said yourself, how the government is changing the law, is trying to crack down on it, is moving in the right direction and show real, tangible results about that.’

Reporters from the Bureau posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan and representatives of the country’s cotton industry. In Uzbekistan, child labour is used in cotton fields to fulfil state quotas and the country also has a terrible human rights record.

Mr Pursey said his company was working for the government of Azerbaijan, which he described as having ‘its own set of very complex issues’.

He later added: ‘If I wanted an easy life I’d do PR for housing associations.’

An ‘attack site’

As well as setting up an internet site ‘like an Uzbek factcheck about the industry’, Mr Pursey suggested the firm could also create an ‘attack site’ aimed at critics.

‘We haven’t written you a proposal or anything else but I think there are several things that we would want to do to start,’ he said.

‘I think articles saying how marvelous everything is, is jumping the gun because it’s not true and [people] won’t accept it. So I think that things such as working through the internet, setting up things like an Uzbek factcheck about the industry, could be a resource for people online that could render better articles.

‘Then a separate site, this is a similar sort of work we’ve done with the Rwandans, for instance. We had a very controversial issue over who did what in the genocide. So the second site being much more a kind of attack site on people who over-criticise.’

Mr Pursey also suggested recruiting Uzbek students, ‘a team of people who are genuinely, really blogging. It’s not fictional. It’s real.’ This group would be used to comment on an online article critical of the regime.

He added that this could affect newspaper coverage.

A positive spin

‘Once we’ve started to nudge up some of the stories to become not so damning, more positive, then we can start looking at addressing issues such as going to the newspapers and saying “Look, you can now see, can’t you, that things are – that people are saying rather different things about this issue than they were six months ago”.’

Mr Pursey told the Bureau yesterday: ‘We helped create a site that outlined facts about the government of Rwanda and most governments have them.’

I think articles saying how marvelous everything is, is jumping the gun because it’s not true and they (people) won’t accept it. 
Mark Pursey

On the company’s work in Azerbaijan, Mr Pursey said: ‘An issue such as the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakhk, that cost 80,000 lives and the internal displacement of over 1 million refugees, is one of these very complexities, yet rarely reported. Rebuilding the lives and families of the survivors has been a massive financial and social challenge and one that should be given the understanding and support it deserves, including in the media.’

During the meeting Edward Lord OBE, a member of the City of London Corporation and Lord Kilclooney’s staff, was introduced by Mr Pursey as another partner in the business. Both men subsequently clarified that Mr Lord was not a BTP Partner and had no financial relationship with the firm, but had been invited by Mr Pursey to support him in making his pitch.  Mr Lord has since said, with hindsight, he should not have attended the meeting.

December 7, 2011   No Comments

Human Rights Watch to Uganda: Investigate Rwandan Journalist’s Murder

Ugandan Government Should Ensure Safety of Rwandan Exiles

December 6, 2011 – The persecution of government critics can reach beyond Rwanda’s borders. We fear for the safety of other exiled journalists and government opponents in the aftermath of Ingabire’s murder.

Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

(New York) – The Ugandan authorities should open an effective and transparent investigation into the murder of a Rwandan journalist on November 30, 2011, and identify and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The Ugandan government should also provide protection for Rwandan journalists and other critics of the Rwandan government who are living in Uganda, Human Rights Watch said.

Charles Ingabire, editor of the online publication Inyenyeri News and a vocal critic of the Rwandan government, was shot twice in the chest as he was leaving a bar in the Bukesa-Kikoni Makerere area of Kampala late at night. Friends told Human Rights Watch that he frequently went to that bar and had gone there that evening to meet some friends.

A spokesman for the Ugandan police told the media that the police had opened an investigation into Ingabire’s death and that two people were being held for questioning.

“The persecution of government critics can reach beyond Rwanda’s borders,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We fear for the safety of other exiled journalists and government opponents in the aftermath of Ingabire’s murder.”

The Ugandan police should explore every lead in the search for Ingabire’s killers and intensify protective measures for other Rwandan refugees, Human Rights Watch said.

Ingabire, who was 31 years old, was a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He had worked as a journalist in Rwanda, but left in 2007 and obtained refugee status in Uganda. While in Uganda, he contributed to Umuvugizi newspaper, one of Rwanda’s most outspoken publications.

Umuvugiziwas suspended in 2010 by the Media High Council, a Rwandan government-controlled institution. Jean-Léonard Rugambage, another Umuvugizi journalist, was murdered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in June 2010. Its editor, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, fled Rwanda in 2010 after numerous threats to his safety.

After the suspension of Umuvugizi, Ingabire became the editor of an online newspaper, Inyenyeri News, which often published articles critical of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and of the Rwandan government and army. Within a short time, the website appeared to have been infiltrated, and its contents suddenly changed, portraying the government in a favorable light. Ingabire’s friends said they suspected it had been taken over by elements close to the government. Ingabire and his colleagues moved Inyenyeri News to a new web location and it resumed its critical reporting.

Ingabire confided to friends that he had been threatened several times in the months leading up to his death, they told Human Rights Watch. About two months before his murder, he was attacked and beaten in Kampala, and his computer stolen. The assailants – whom he did not recognize – told him they wanted him to close down his website. He also received anonymous telephone death threats warning him to stop writing articles critical of the government.

While it is too early to draw conclusions about the motive for Ingabire’s murder, his death takes place in the context of a well documented pattern of repression of independent journalists, opposition party members, and civil society activists in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said. Several journalists, critics, and opponents of the government in Rwanda have been arrested and detained or prosecuted in 2010 and 2011, and others outside the country have been threatened repeatedly.

Rwandans living in Uganda are at particular risk, given the geographical proximity and close links between the two countries, Human Rights Watch said. Rwandan refugees in Kampala frequently report being threatened and followed by people they believe are Rwandan intelligence agents.

Attacks on opponents and critics have also taken place further afield. In June 2010, General Kayumba Nyamwasa narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in South Africa. Nyamwasa is a former chief-of-staff of the Rwandan army and was once a close ally of Kagame, but is now an outspoken government opponent in exile. In May, two Rwandans living in the UK were warned by the London Metropolitan Police that there were threats to their safety emanating from the Rwandan government.

“The Rwandan government frequently states its commitment to democracy and free speech,” Bekele said, “but such statements are hollow when critics are threatened and attacked. The Rwandan judicial authorities should cooperate fully with their Ugandan counterparts in unearthing the truth about Ingabire’s murder.”

December 7, 2011   No Comments