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]