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Rwanda’s media is still haunted by the mass killing of its Tutsi population in 1994 and the big part played in preparing and carrying it out by media outlets such as Radio télévision libre des milles collines (RTLM) and the newspaper Kangura. National reconstruction has involved a total change in the media, with the appearance of English-language publications and growth of a Kinyarwanda-language media. But the legacy of the genocide has meant that even slight criticism of the government is attacked by the regime as “revisionism” and quickly cracked down on. The authorities use laws against “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” to punish freedom of expression, which leads to self-censorship.
The media is not very diverse and is concentrated in Kigali. Some outlets are privately-owned but government-controlled ones (Radio Rwanda and the national TV station TVR) dominate and some independent newspapers have had to close down. Relations between the government and foreign media are also very difficult. After breaking off diplomatic ties with France in 2006, the government ordered the Radio France Internationale transmitter to close down and expelled its correspondent. In 2009, it temporarily suspended BBC relay broadcasts in Kinyarwanda after the station broadcast statements by Rwandans about the genocide.
The government exerts strong pressure (though it denies it) on the independent media. President Kagame has for several years been on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of “predators” of press freedom. He affects to be modern-minded and is one of the most visible African leaders online (Facebook, viral propaganda and many sites supporting him) but this apparently open spirit is not real.
The 2010 presidential election that saw him re-elected with 93% of the vote took place in very bad conditions for the media. The country’s two main newspapers at the time (both anti-government), Umuseso and Umuvugizi, were shut down for six months by the regime-controlled Media High Council. Several journalists were given prison sentences while others fled the country. Respected journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, deputy editor of Umuvugizi, was shot dead in front of his home in Kigali on 24 June 2010.
The government quickly arrested two men, one of whom received a 10-year jail sentence. As far as the authorities were concerned, the case was closed but outside government circles the suspicion remained that the jailed man was framed and that the government was in fact involved. Before he was killed, Rugambage was investigating the involvement of government agents in a failed attempt a few days earlier to kill a Rwandan general living abroad.
The regime’s hounding of journalists forces them into exile or often results in their arrest. The editor of Umuvugizi, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, fled in 2010 and ran the paper online from abroad. He continues to receive threats and was sentenced in June 2011, in his absence, to two and a half years in prison. Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, editor of the privately-owned paper Umurabyo, was arrested in July 2010 along with one of her journalists, Saidat Mukakibibi, and in early 2011 they were given prison sentences of 17 and seven years. The sentences were later reduced to four and three years respectively.
Updated in October 2012