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Media and human rights organisations stunned by the 33-year jail term requested by prosecutors for Rwandan female journalist Uwimana Nkusi

Rwanda: Call for 33-year jail term for Rwandan journalist alarms world’s press

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have written to Rwandan President Paul Kagame to express serious concern over the lengthy prison sentences requested by state prosecutors in a High Court hearing against two journalists.

Prosecutors at the Kigali court requested 33 years imprisonment for Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo,  and 12 years for reporter Saidath Mukakibibi. Fines have also been levied against the pair, with a final verdict due on 4 February.

The journalists, who have already spent six months in pre-trial detention, are being tried on a range of charges including genocide denial, inciting public disorder, insulting the president and spreading false rumours. Their arrest in July for publishing opinion pieces falls within a pattern of newspaper closures and the jailing and murder of journalists ahead of last year’s presidential elections.

“While not condoning any shortcomings in the journalists’ professionalism in preparing the articles – failings which Ms Uwimana Nkusi has admitted – we are concerned that the government is using the ‘genocide ideology’ law to suppress the free expression of opinions,” WAN-IFRA and WEF said in the letter.

International media and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly criticised the use of “genocide ideology” law to suppress the free expression of opinions. Charges such as defamation or insulting the president are often inflated to “genocide denial” or “inciting public disorder” that carry lengthy prison terms.

In its letter to President Kagame, and in the context of the Declaration of Table Mountain, WAN-IFRA’s Africa-wide campaign to repeal criminal defamation, the organisations called on the Rwandan leader to take all necessary steps to ensure the immediate release of Ms Uwimana Nkusi and Mr Mukakibibi and to halt the intimidation of critical media “so that the press is able to report free from government pressure.”

The letter to President Kagame read:

“We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the extremely harsh jail sentences requested by a Kigali prosecutor against two journalists.

“According to reports, the prosecution requested 33 years in prison and a fine of 800,000 Rwandan francs (about 1,000 euros) for Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, and 12 years in prison and fine of 200,000 Rwandan francs (about 250 euros) for reporter Saidath Mukakibibi.

“The journalists, who have already spent six months in pre-trial detention, are being tried on a range of charges including genocide denial, inciting public disorder, insulting the president and spreading false rumours. A verdict is expected on 4 February.

“When requesting the sentences, prosecutor Augustin Nkusi said: “Their articles, for example in their issue 29, clearly show the intent and motive of the two, which was to incite the people against an elected government.” While not condoning any shortcomings in the journalists’ professionalism in preparing the articles – failings which Ms Uwimana Nkusi has admitted – we are concerned that the government is using the “genocide ideology” law to suppress the free expression of opinions. Charges such as defamation or insulting the president are often inflated to “genocide denial” or “inciting public disorder” and their arrest in July for publishing opinion pieces falls within a pattern of newspaper closures and the jailing and murder of journalists ahead of last year’s presidential elections.

“Ms Nkusi served a two-year prison sentence from 2007 on similar charges and she received two warnings for her reporting by the Media High Council last year.

“We respectfully bring to your attention the Declaration of Table Mountain, endorsed at the 60th World Newspaper Congress and 14th Editors Forum in Cape Town in June 2007. The Declaration calls on African states to promote the highest standards of press freedom, uphold the principles proclaimed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other protocols, and provide constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press.

“We respectfully remind you that the jailing of journalists for carrying out their profession violates numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.’

“We call on you to take all necessary steps to ensure the immediate release of Ms Uwimana Nkusi and Ms Mukakibibi and to halt the intimidation of critical media so that the press is able to report free from government pressure. We ask you to ensure that in future your country fully respects the Declaration of Table Mountain and other international standards of press freedom.”

WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore, India, Spain, France and Sweden, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. The organisation was created by the merger of the World Association of Newspapers and IFRA, the research and service organisation for the news publishing industry.

[WAN-IFRA]

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