Rwanda: Tabloids Umuseso and Umuvugizi suspended
Kigali – The two tabloid newspapers will not be allowed to publish on the territory of Rwanda for the next six months over among the accusations – defaming the Head of State. The decision came just before President Kagame demanded an end to rumours.
The government-supported High Council of the Media (HCM) and the Ministry of Information (MININFOR) announced Tuesday that the publication licenses of UMUSESO and UMUVUGIZI newspapers are suspended with immediate effect.
However, the editors of the affected newspapers had not been notified formally by press time.
Seated side-by-side, Mr. Arthur Asiimwe, the Council President and the Council’s Executive Secretary Mr. Patrice Mulama told reporters at an impromptu press conference that the papers are causing state instability and defaming the Head of State. The Council said it had to act after reviewing the copies of the two papers published since the beginning of the year.
The announcement came just a few hours before another major speech made by President Paul Kagame in Parliament after accepting the oath of office of the new chiefs at the Ministry of Defense. The President warned those he described as “trading on rumours”, referring to media reports that Lt. Gen Charles Kayonga was in trouble with the authorities.
At a press conference two weeks ago, the President dismissed the reports as rumours. In an unexpected turn of events, on Monday Saturday, the President named Lt. Gen Kayonga as Chief of Defense Staff.
On Tuesday, he made direct reference to the reports. But without elaborating specifics as to which media exactly, the President said whoever was propagating such rumours – which he said undermine the country’s security, “must stop”. He added that will happen “on good or bad terms”.
The decision of the Media Council and the Ministry came following another Council recommended for the suspension of UMUSESO in August last year. The Council took the decision in reaction to an article published by UMUSESO in its July 20-27 issue comparing President Kagame with former president Habyarimana, alleging that Kagame’s regime superseded Habyarimana’s by its “technological dictatorship.”
The article was an opinion piece entitled “Twins?”, with a photo of President Kagame and Habyarimana, underscored by a kicker, “Kagame better than Habyarimana by technological dictatorship.”
In an August 3 letter seeking the suspension of the publication, the HCM said the UMUSESO article defamed the head of state, was confusing to the public, carried false information and news without any source and was exaggerated.
Then in the recent issues, the controversial weekly has repeatedly claimed that Lt. Gen. Kayonga and other top military and intelligence officers are under house arrest or jail over coup plot attempts. UMUVUGIZI has also been running similar articles.
Referring to this, the Media Council says the two papers have deliberately continued publishing information which destabilizes the harmony in the country. The two papers are also battling different court cases.
The decision announced Tuesday also comes after the Council wrote to UMUSESO over the weekend – demanding an apology over another article which claimed Cabinet Affair Minister Protais Musoni had had an extramarital relationship with Kigali city Mayor Dr. Aissa Kirabo Kacyira.
However, both Mr. Didas Gasana, of UMUSESO and Mr. Jean Bosco Gasasira told RNA they have not been notified officially of the decision to suspend their papers. Neither were they invited to the press conference announcing the decision.
“I just heard about the decision – which is actually illegal,” argued Mr. Gasana. The counterpart, Mr. Gasasira says he has never been summoned by the Media Council over anything to do with defaming the President or publishing rumours.
It is not the first time the Media Council has taken action against UMUSESO. In 2005, the council issued a similar recommendation but the then Minister of information, Prof. Laurent Nkusi, did not respond and publication continued. He said the case was already in court.
The tabloid’s current fate was lying with the Ministry of Information which was yet to respond to the council’s August recommendation. Under Rwanda’s media law, only the minister can suspend or ban a publication.
The suspension comes into effect on Tuesday.