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Rwanda14 September 2004

Weekly threatened with closure over controversial articles, one of its journalists flees

Reporters Without Borders voiced renewed concern today about the decline in press freedom in Rwanda, where journalists critical of the government are often harassed and the independent weekly Umuseso, the target of arrests and confiscations in the past, is now threatened with temporary closure and one of its reporters has had to flee because it refused to reveal its sources.

"It is pointless for the regime to go on about its commitment to a free and diverse press if the reality is quite different," the organisation said. "Umuseso’s refusal to reveal its sources is no reason to close it down, even provisionally."

Reporters Without Borders added: "If President Paul Kagame’s government wants to continue boasting about its support for press freedom, it must give journalists guarantees that they will be able to work safely."

At the information minister’s request, Rwanda’s High Council of the Press (HCP) called on Umuseso’s editor on 18 August to "acknowledge his mistakes," publish corrections and reveal his sources for a series of controversial articles accusing the national assembly vice-president of plotting to seize power.

After Umuseso’s editorial staff refused to comply, the HCP formally asked the information ministry yesterday to suspend the newspaper for four months. The ministry has not yet responded.

Umuseso reporter Tharcisse Semana, one of the articles’ authors, meanwhile fled the country on 26 August after repeatedly being followed and harassed in other ways. He told Reporters Without Borders that in the last of these incidents, on the night of 25 August, he was followed by several unidentified persons who threatened him with violence and tried unsuccessfully to steal a document from him that would have been compromising for a senior government official.

Semana managed to escape from Rwanda the same night and is now in Uganda, where he is still afraid to go back. Already the target of threats because of his coverage of the trial of former Hutu president Pasteur Bizimungu, Semana told Reporters Without Borders he never spent two nights in a row in the same place until he got away.

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