Authorities pursued an aggressive legal assault against critical journalists, using laws that ban insults against public officials and abusing anti-genocide laws to silence independent voices. President Paul Kagame’s close relations with Western governments continued to shield him from criticism over his administration’s poor press freedom record. In February, a panel of High Court judges sentenced two editors of the now-closed independent weekly Umurabyo to lengthy prison terms on charges of “genocidal ideology” related to articles detailing ethnic divisions in the security forces. In June, the Supreme Court sentenced in absentia Jean-Bosco Gasasira, editor of the independent Umuvugizi, to a prison term of two and a half years on insult charges stemming from an opinion piece that unfavorably compared Kagame to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe. Gasasira had fled the country in 2010, joining one of the region’s largest press diasporas. Another independent weekly editor, Nelson Gatsimbazi, fled the country in September, also fearing imprisonment. The government’s aggressive actions left a subdued and largely state-dominated press landscape. A small number of critical websites remained, but they were subjected to regular government blocking.
Facing prison sentences and harassment, Rwandan independent journalists have steadily fled the country.
High Court judges sentenced Agnès Uwimana, editor of Umurabyo, to 17 years in prison and Saidati Mukakibibi, the weekly's deputy editor, to seven years.
June 2007: Information Minister Laurent Nkusi suspended the license of the independent Weekly Post on vague allegations that it used false documents in
license application. The paper, in circulation
for one issue, never published again.
October 2007: The Rwanda Independent Media Group, publisher of three weeklies, suspended publication for two weeks to protest remarks by two ministers claiming the company worked for “opposition forces.”
March 2008: The Media High Council issued a one-year suspension to the independent Kinyarwandan weekly, Umuco, for insulting Kagame.
April 2009: The government suspended the BBC’s Kinyarwandan programming for a month on trumped-up anti-genocide charges.
April 2010: The state-run Media High Council suspended the independent weeklies Umuseso and Umuvugizi for six months for insulting Kagame.
August 2011: The Kinyarwandan-language independent bimonthly Ishema suspended publication for a month after getting threats concerning an opinion piece that called Kagame a “sociopath.”
Public officials and prominent business figures have used criminal and civil defamation complaints and a politicized judiciary to silence independent journalists, CPJ research shows. In the seven major defamation cases heard in the past four years, the press has lost every time.
Data from the International Telecommunication Union show that Rwandan Internet use, while inching upward, still lags behind East African countries such as Kenya, where penetration is about 21 percent, and Uganda, where it stands at about 12.5 percent.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.