- Rwandan correspondents of leading international media are singled out by authorities over the "unpatriotic" coverage given of their country. At a public meeting, the police spokesman asked for a "review" of the correspondents' ideology and the state press describes their reporting as "treason". Also the Rwanda President is increasingly sceptical towards the press.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame in January gave the first indication that the press was into even tougher times in the country. At a meeting with his ministers on 24 January, President Kagame reportedly said; "I do not see how a pitiful Rwanda journalist can unsettle responsible men and women such as yourselves." He added that "the press seems almost non-existent" and held that many unemployed "elements on the fringe of society" enter journalism as a way to make some money.
As the news of President Kagame's comments hit the streets in Kigali, outraged press representatives called his remarks "slanderous" and "scandalous". Since this, Rwandan authorities have returned to more diversified attacks, singling out representatives of the press critical of the government and the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).
At a recent conference and debate staged by the Information Ministry in Kigali, authorities singled out Lucie Umukundwa, the correspondent of Voice of America (VOA), Jean-Claude Mwambutsa, the BBC's correspondent. The two correspondents were attacked by several well prepared and coordinated government officials without any prior warning.
Government spokesman Joseph Bideri, who also heads the Rwandan Information Office (ORINFOR), accused Mr Mwambutsa of "exaggerating" Human Rights Watch's criticism of Rwanda in its annual report, published on 19 January, which declared the "gacaca" popular tribunals set up in 2003 to hear genocide cases to have been a failure on account of their slowness and their many irregularities.
Ms Umukundwa was taken to task for her coverage of the controversy resulting from the objections raised by three newspaper editors to the annual report issued on 9 December by the High Press Council (HCP), which regulates the Rwandan media, and for her references to Amnesty International's bleak assessment of press freedom in Rwanda.
Information Minister Laurent Nkusi accused her of taking an interest only in news "critical of the government" and said this showed she was "the only source of information for Reporters sans Frontières [RSF] and other organisations." RSF, a Paris-based group defending press freedom, for a long time has been critical to the Kigali government and its deteriorating rights record.
The attacks ot the VOA and BBC correspondents were followed up by state-owned 'Radio Rwanda' director Willy Rukundo. Mr Rukondo attacked both of them, claiming they were "not patriots" and were guilty of "treason". Finally, police spokesman Theos Badeg said, "the ideology of these journalists must be reviewed."
RSF yesterday strongly protested the "inquisitorial behaviour" of Rwandan government officials against the two correspondents. "Previously, the independent press was physically attacked, now it is hauled before an informal political tribunal," the French group said. "It is clear that Rwandan journalists who do not sing the government's praises are treated with contempt and hostility. What more proof do we need that press freedom is at risk in Rwanda," RSF asked, with reference to Amnesty's earlier conclusions.
Attacks on the few remaining independent media of Rwanda have increased lately. Several independent publications have had to close down during the last few years. This year started with an attack on Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the editor of the opposition fortnightly 'Umuco'. Armed intruders burst into the home of Mr Bizumuremyi in the early hours of 15 January, ransacked his house, threatened him and ordered him to stop publishing articles criticising the ruling party.
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