Journalists in Rwanda Under Attack
Kigali – The latest in a string of attacks on the media in Rwanda has targeted Agnes Uwimana, editor of Umurabyo, a private newspaper in Rwanda. She was charged with defaming the president and espousing genocide.
Uwimana’s arrest and other attacks on the media have captured the attention of press freedom organizations for weeks.
The Rwandan government in recent months has shut down newspapers which dare to raise sensitive topics and criticize government policies.
Some topics include reports on the murder of journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, President Paul Kagame’s fallout with exiled military leaders, and lavish government spending, according to the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF).
“The timing of Agnes Uwimana’s arrest calls into question the government’s motivation,” said Campbell Brown, IWMF co-chair in a statement on the IWMF website. “Silencing an independent media voice one month before a presidential election smacks of an attempt to control the media.”
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Uwimana’s troubles stem from articles in the last two issues of her paper analyzing and raising questions about the murder of Umuvugizi editor Jean-Léonard Rugambage. She also discussed the attempted murder of an exiled Rwandan military officer, Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, in South Africa.
Before Uwimana’s arrest, Rwanda’s press freedom ranking was already dismal. Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, above only Eritrea, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea.
Rwanda’s President Kagame has also had the dubious honor of being on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom for years.
Umurabyo is the third private newspaper in Rwanda to get in legal hot water just months before the elections. Two other leading independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi have already been shut down by the government.
Ms. Uwimana is no stranger to controversy. In 2007-2008, she did a one-year sentence for charges of ethnic division and libel after publishing a column entitled: You Have Problems if You Kill a Tutsi, But You go Free if You Kill a Hutu.
Uwimana faces up to 50 years in prison if she is convicted.
[Genevieve Long – Media and Foreign Policy]