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Rwandan Election Will be Remembered for Brutish Repression of Journalists
H.E. Paul Kagame
Office of the President
P.O. Box 15
Republic of Rwanda
Fax: (011.250) 84390
It is a great disappointment to Rwanda’s friends around the world that today’s election will be remembered for the brutish repression of free expression across the country.
The past two months have seen the jailing of journalists, the shuttering of more than three dozen news outlets by the Media High Council and, most horribly, the assassination of Jean Léonard Rugambage. Rugambage, as you’re well aware, was deputy editor of Umuvugizi in Kigali. The paper was among the first Rwandan publications to be suspended in the run-up to today’s voting. Rugambage, who represented the newspaper in several court cases arising out of its critical coverage of your government, was the subject of frequent threats. On June 24, as he drove up to his home, an assailant fired several shots at close range and killed him.
Rather than have a sobering effect on your government, the murder of Rugambage was followed days later by the arrest of Agnes Uwimana, the editor of the Kinyarwanda-language weekly, Umurabyo. The charge against Uwimana was that her paper published stories “inciting the public to disobey,” “articles related to division and ethnicity,” and “rumors that can cause disturbance in the country,” according to National Police spokesman, Eric Kayiranga. Among these stories was the paper’s investigation of Rugambage’s murder and allegations of spending sprees by government officials.
The Media High Council acted even more aggressively later in July when it published a list of roughly 30 media outlets it claimed were operating “illegally.” Coincidentally, all of these would be characterized by disinterested observers as critics of your government. Among them were Rwanda’s leading independent newspapers, such as Umuseso, Umuvugizi and Umurabayo, as well as Voice of Africa Rwanda (a Muslim radio station) and Voice of America. That same day, police seized copies of Rwanda Newsline, an English-language newspaper published by Rwanda Independent Media Group, on the grounds that it is not recognized in Rwanda.
We take no sides in today’s elections. But we can not help agreeing with our colleague, Mohamed Keita of the Committee to Protect Journalists, that your government is invoking national security and the legacy of the 1994 genocide to silence dissenting voices in the independent Rwandan press. How could we think otherwise when Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press-freedom index — the fourth-lowest ranking in Africa?
Your Excellency, it must be terrible to find yourself on RSF’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom” year after year. Today’s election could be a new beginning for you, and for Rwanda. We hope that you will seize that opportunity, but we are not optimistic.
Co-chairmen – Press Freedom Committee
H.E. Zac Nsenga
Ambassador of Rwanda to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda
1714 New Hampshire Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 232.4544
Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Nations
124 East 39th Street
New York, NY 10016
Fax: (212) 679.9133
H.E. W. Stuart Symington
U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda
Embassy of the United States of America
#2657 Avenue de la Gendarmerie
Fax: (011.250) 59.67.71/ 65.91
(OR: P.O. Box 28)
Agence Rwandaise d’Information
Boulevard de U’muganda
P.O. Box 453
Fax: (011.250) 58.72.16
College House, Koinange Str.
P.O. Box 46356
Fax: (011.254.20) 225.2373
afrol News Lesotho, c/o Mopheme
1st floor Allied Building (Manonyane Centre)
Fax: (011.266.2) 231.1670
(Or: P.O. Box 14184)