A court in the Kigali district of Nyarugenge yesterday imposed jail sentences on Charles Kabonero, the publisher of the weekly Umuseso, Didas Gasana, its editor, and Richard Kayigamba, one of its reporters, after finding them guilty of invading privacy in one of their articles. Kabonero got 12 months, while the other two got six months.
“We firmly condemn these sentences, which deprive the newspaper’s staff of three of its most important members,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities clearly want to silence one of the country’s few independent publications.”
The three journalists were also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million Rwandan francs (1,800 US dollars). They have not yet been taken into custody to begin serving their sentences and have 30 days to appeal. The court did not, fortunately, order the newspaper’s closure. Kabonero and Gasana were already given 12-month suspended jail sentences in another case.
Reporters Without Borders has written to French President Nicolas Sarkozy drawing his attention to the press freedom situation and asking him to raise it with his counterpart, Paul Kagame, during the official visit to Rwanda that he is due to begin in three days.
See the previous release below.
04.02.2010 - Independent weekly threatened with being closed for good
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the fate of the Umuseso, one of Rwanda’s leading independent weeklies, which could be closed down as a result of case brought by the public prosecutor’s office accusing it of libel and invasion of privacy for reporting that a government minister was having an extra-marital affair with the mayor of Kigali. A neighbourhood court in Nyarugenge is due to issue its verdict on 22 February.
“We urge the judge to keep a cool head and to issue a fair verdict that respects press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The court must first establish whether the defendants are guilty of libel and if they are, there are much more appropriate punishments than jailing them and closing their newspaper for good.”
Reporters Without Borders fears the gradual erosion of the limited freedom available to Rwanda’s privately-owned media in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for August.
On 27 January, the Kigali prosecutor’s office requested Umuseso’s closure and one-year jail sentences for its publisher, Charles Kabonero, its editor, Didas Gasana, and one of its reporters, Richard Kayigamba, for an article published in issue No. 382 in November about cabinet affairs minister Protais Musoni and Kigali mayor Aisa Kirabo Kacyira. The prosecutor’s office also asked that they be fined 5 million Rwandan francs (9,000 dollars).
Kayigamba claimed in the article, which was accompanied by photos of the minister and the mayor, that he caught them together in a hotel. The public prosecutor’s office brought the case after the two officials denied the report.
The one-year suspended prison sentences which Umuseso’s publisher and editor received in an unrelated case brought by a wealthy businessman, Tribert Rujugiro, is meanwhile due to be examined by an appeal court on 11 February.
Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Eritrea, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea were the only African countries that received worse rankings.