Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about the harassment of independent newspapers in Rwanda after learning that access to the Umuvugizi news website has been blocked in Rwanda since 3 June on the orders of the Media High Council.
Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira launched the website on 21 April, one week after the Media High Council suspended the print version of his fortnightly newspaper for six months on 13 April. The weekly Umuseso was suspended at the same time.
The executive secretary of the Media High Council, which regulates the media under the supervision of the president’s office, had announced that the Umuvugizi website would be blocked shortly after its launch, arguing that banned newspapers were also banned online.
“The censorship of these newspapers, whether they appear online or in print form, constitutes a crude act of manipulation in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for 9 August,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“President Paul Kagame’s government, which had already deployed a large arsenal of measures to gag the press, has set a disturbing precedent by blocking this website,” the press freedom organisation added. “The regime has shown it is able to innovate in order to pursue its long-standing obsession about controlling news and information.”
Gasasira told Reporters Without Borders: “Blocking Umuvugizi’s website very clearly shows that President Kagame does not want independent media in Rwanda and will not allow his own people to express views or publish independent news reports by means of journalism.”
He said he thought the site was blocked as a result of an article portraying Kagame as one of the world’s most corrupt dictators and contrasting his acquisition of two jets for 100 million dollars with the fact that 60 per cent of the government’s budget comes from foreign donations while the population is hit by poverty and AIDS.
When the Media High Council suspended Umuseso and Umuvugizi in April, it accused them of “inciting insubordination in the army and police regarding orders from superiors,” publishing “information that endangers public order,” rumour mongering, defamation and invasion of privacy. But it did not cite any articles to support these charges.
Gasasira set up the website after moving to Uganda because he was being harassed and was getting threatening letters in Rwanda. The website is being blocked inside Rwanda by Internet Service Providers such as MTN and Rwandatel, but it is still accessible outside the country.
Last year, Gasasira was convicted on charges of defamation and invasion of privacy. He was also attacked and beaten unconscious.
Rwanda has the fourth lowest ranking in Africa in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index while President Kagame is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”