By the end of 2003, the government had still not implemented the measures it announced in 2002, namely the liberalisation of broadcasting and the formation of the gacaca, the traditional courts that are supposed to try those accused of carrying out the 1994 genocide.
A page was turned when the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) issued verdicts and sentences on 3 December 2003 in the trial of the "hate media" for their role in the 1994 genocide that took 800,000 lives.
Ferdinand Nahimana, one of the founders of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), and Hassan Ngeze, a former editor of the magazine Kangura, were sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of "genocide, arrangement to commit genocide, and public and direct incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity." Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, another RTLM staff member, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Their trial had begun in October 2000. A fourth journalist, Georges Ruggiu, a Belgian, had already been sentenced to 12 years in prison in June 2000 after pleading guilty to inciting genocide and crimes against humanity on the air on RTLM.
This was the first time since the end of World War II and the Nuremberg trials that journalists received sentences of life imprisonment for inciting murder and violence in their news reports or editorials.
The incumbent president, Paul Kagame, was confirmed in his post with 95 per cent of the vote in the country’s first election since 1994. The opposition disputed the validity of the election but its complaint was rejected by the supreme court, which upheld the results. One of the president’s first measures after the election was to revive the information ministry, which had been disbanded a few years earlier.
The lack of any evolution in the government held back the emergence of a truly independent press. The news media lack diversity in Rwanda. Only one or two newspapers carry reports criticising the government’s performance and, as a result, they are the most likely to be targeted by the authorities. Issues of the weekly Umuseso were confiscated three times and both of the two managing editors it had in 2003 were arrested and interrogated. The privatisation of the broadcast media, although repeatedly announced by the authorities, still did not materialise in 2003. The state-owned TV and radio kept their monopoly.
The formation of the gacaca (traditional people’s courts that are supposed to try those accused of having a role in the genocide) has been repeatedly postponed. Two journalists accused of inciting or participating in the genocide spent another year in prison without being taken before one of these courts.
Three journalists imprisoned
At least two journalists were still imprisoned in Rwanda at the end of 2003.
Dominique Makeli of Radio Rwanda remained in Kigali central prison, where he has been since 18 September 1994. Kigali state prosecutor Sylvaire Gatambiye told Reporters Without Borders in October 2001 that Makeli was accused of inciting genocide in his reports. While covering an appearance of the Virgin in Kibeho, in the west of the country, in May 1994, he reported that she was supposed to have said: "The parent is in heaven." The prosecutor insisted that, in the context of that moment, this was taken to mean, "President Habyarimana is in heaven" and was interpreted as a message of support for Habyarimana and, by extension, the policy of exterminating Tutsis. Reporters Without Borders obtained a recording of this programme and played it to Rwandans who were in the country at the time of the genocide. None of them thought Makeli was fomenting hate.
A programme presenter and producer at Radio Rwanda, Tatiana Mukakibibi was interrogated several times in the months following her arrest in 1996 and was accused of killing or arranging the killing of Eugène Bwanamudogo, a Tutsi who produced radio programmes for the agriculture ministry. A witness who lived with Mukakibibi at the time of the genocide told Reporters Without Borders that she could not have killed Bwanamudogo because he died in the first few days of the genocide when she was preparing a report in Cyangugu. Furthermore, one of Bwanamudogo’s brothers reportedly told this witness that he was killed by soldiers. Nonetheless, Mukakibibi continued to be imprisoned in 2003.
Ismaël Mbonigaba, the managing editor of the independent weekly Umuseso, was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police on 22 January 2003 and was transferred two days later to Kigali’s central prison on a charge of "inciting divisions and discrimination." He was detained because his paper reported on 13 January that former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu would run against President Kagame in the coming presidential election. The article was accompanied by a cartoon of Kagame as King Solomon with one hand holding a sword and the other holding a baby representing the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), which is part of the ruling coalition. Two other people were shown pulling him in opposite directions as regards how to deal with the MDR. The cartoon suggested he was the arbiter of the party’s divisions and that he alone could decide its future. Mbonigaba was released provisionally on 27 February, but his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving Kigali. Still under threat, he fled abroad a few months later.
Five journalists detained
Robert Sebufilira, Ismaël Mbonigaba’s successor as managing editor of the weekly Umuseso, was himself detained on 19 November 2003 near the Ugandan border where he had gone to collect 4,000 copies of the latest issue of newspaper, which is printed in Uganda to save on costs. He was to taken to CID headquarters in Kigali where his deputy, McDowell Kalisa, and three of the newspaper’s other journalists went looking for him the next day, only to be detained themselves. Their arrests were thought to have been prompted by an article about the dismissal of Maj. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, former army chief of staff and current head of the National Security Service. All five journalists were released on 21 November without being charged, but the police said an investigation was still under way.
Harassment and obstruction
Police seized all copies of the first issue of Indorerwamo on 22 April 2003 as they arrived at the Rwandan border from Kampala in neighbouring Uganda, where they had been printed. The newspaper’s representative, who was at the border to receive the copies, was detained by police for several hours. The copies were then sent to police headquarters in Kigali. Indorerwamo’s managing editor was Ismaël Mbonigaba, the former managing editor of Umuseso, who had been imprisoned for more than a month at the beginning of the year.