We cannot talk of real pluralism of information in Rwanda. With the exception of a few articles or critical editorials, the news that is published or broadcast is usually favourable towards the powers-that-be. Apart from the government press (Imvaho, La Relève) there are fewer than ten privately-owned periodicals. Most titles survive on advertising space bought by state administrations and major public-sector companies. Circulation never exceeds 4,000 copies and virtually all readership is concentrated in the Kigali area.
The broadcasting sector is exclusively at the service of the government. A leader of a local human rights organisation noted that it is more appropriate to refer to "government media" than to "public media". Radio Rwanda and Télévision nationale du Rwanda (TVR) are the only nation-wide media. Radio is by far the most popular medium in the country. Privately-owned radio stations and television channels are banned de facto even though they are legal in terms of the 1991 press law. On several occasions the authorities have referred to the tragic consequences of the creation of Radio-télévision libre des mille collines (RTLM) when refusing broadcasting licenses to private entrepreneurs.
Article 89 of the new press law, passed by parliament on 28 September 2001, specifies that: "Any attempt, via the media, to incite a part of the Rwandan population to genocide, is liable to the death sentence". This clause is an open door to arbitrary condemnation of critical journalists and opponents. According to a local journalist, it could have been used to sentence Pasteur Bizimungu to death for statements made in an interview with the weekly Jeune Afrique - L’Intelligent. The former head of state affirmed that, with regard to the current situation, new massacres could be perpetrated in the country. On 19 December President Paul Kagame said he had been opposed to this bill. "We have no law on genocide. This should be the starting point", he said to the press.
Certain subjects (Rwandan presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violent acts by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, etc.) are taboo in the media. Many journalists say they practice self-censorship to avoid reprisals. The state president, averse to criticism, has realised that discreet and targeted pressure is sometimes more effective than severe police repression. He is on Reporters Without Borders’ list of predators of press freedom in the world.
On 1 January 2002 at least ten journalists are behind bars in Rwanda. All are accused of having participated, in one way or another, in the 1994 genocide. Reporters Without Borders believes that in only two cases can the arrests be considered as attacks on press freedom: those of Dominique Makeli and Tatiana Mukakibibi.
Dominique Makeli, journalist with Radio Rwanda, is detained in Kigali central prison (PCK). During the first days of the genocide he fled to Kibuye in western Rwanda where one of his sons had been killed a month earlier by the Interahamwe (extremist Hutu militia). On his return to Kigali in September 1994 he was arrested at his home by an agent from the DMI, Department of Military Intelligence. In October the state prosecutor, Sylvaire Gatambiye, told Reporters Without Borders that Dominique Makeli was accused of "incitement to genocide in his reports". In May 1994 he had covered an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Kibeho, west of Butare, and reported her supposed declaration: "The parent is in heaven". The prosecutor explained that, in the context at the time, that meant: "President Habyarimana is in heaven". The population was said to have interpreted the message as God’s support for the former president and, by extension, political extermination of the Tutsis.
Tatiana Mukakibibi was programme host and producer for Radio Rwanda. In July 1994 she and her colleagues fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On 10 August she returned to Rwanda, to Kapgayi near Gitarama, where she worked with the priest André Sibomana (former managing editor of Kinyamateka and 1994 Reporters Sans Frontières-Fondation de France prize-winner, who died in March 1998). She was arrested in July 1995 and detained for a few days. Fearing reprisals, she subsequently fled to Uganda. She returned to Rwanda on 30 September 1996 but police arrested her two days later at her Ntenyo home, in Gitarama. Tatiana Mukakibibi was immediately taken to a communal jail where she was detained in very trying conditions. The day after her arrest a police inspector told her that she would be released if she said that she had gone to Uganda under the protection of Father Sibomana. She refused and five days later was accused of distributing arms and of murdering Eugène Bwanamudogo, a Tutsi who made radio programmes for the agriculture ministry. During the summer of 2001 the deputy prosecutor in Gitarama confirmed these charges. According to Tatiana Mukakibibi, she was framed by people in her village because André Sibomana sent reports to international organisations, denouncing violent acts by Tutsis in retaliation for the April 1994 massacres. She believed that certain persons cited in these documents had tried, through her, to have André Sibomana arrested.
In four other cases - Ladislas Parmehutu, Joseph Habyarimana, Gédéon Mushimiyimana and Telesphore Nyilimanzi - Reporters Without Borders does not have enough evidence to be able pronounce itself with any certainty on their involvement or not in the genocide. It seems that the reasons for the arrests of two other journalists - Joseph Ruyenzi and Domina Sayiba - are related to quarrels and rivalry between their families and those of the plaintiffs. Their detention is therefore not related to their work as journalists. In all the other cases, it is highly likely that the journalists did call for ethnic hatred before and during the genocide.
Ladislas Parmehutu fled to the DRC in April 1994. On his return in 1996 he was arrested by municipal police in Byumba in northern Rwanda. After three years in jail he was transferred to the PCK, in late 1999. He has been interrogated six times but has never been told why he is charged.
Joseph Habyarimana has been detained since 28 October 1997. According to him, his arrest is related to articles published in the 24th and 25th issues of the newspaper Indorerwamo, in which he claimed that a very influential woman in the Kigali local administration wanted to have Hutus in her neighbourhood jailed for participating in the genocide. A week after his arrest Joseph Habyarimana was interrogated and accused of participating in a collective attack in Mont Jari in Kigali, and of coming back and playing football with a human head. He denies these accusations. In the absence of evidence, Reporters Without Borders is unable to express an opinion on the exact reason for Joseph Habyarimana’s detention.
Gédéon Mushimiyimana became a journalist with national television in 1995. A year later he was arrested in Kigali by gendarmes and accused of "transmitting information" to Radio France Internationale (RFI) to the effect that Paul Kagame, then vice-president of Rwanda, was a "terrorist". In May 1999 he was transferred to Kigali central prison and questioned by a judge. He was accused of being an accomplice in his wife’s death. Gédéon Mushimiyimana is currently in Butare prison.
Telesphore Nyilimanzi, manager at Radio Rwanda, returned to Rwanda in December 1996 after more than two years in exile. He occupied various functions in the ministry of local administration and social affairs (MINALOC, in charge of information). In August 2000, one month after his arrest, he was accused of planning and inciting the massacres in the north-west of the country in 1992, "as head of the radio station".
Two other journalists were jailed in 2001.
Agents from the CID (criminal investigation department) arrested Timothée Bwandinga, managing editor of the newspaper Ishakwe y’i Rwanda, on 19 April 2001. The newspaper for which he had formerly worked, The New Times, accused him of misappropriation of funds. He was detained for a week at the Remera police station. The editor-in-chief and financial manager of Ishakwe were also arrested and held for a few hours by the CID. Their identity documents were confiscated, so that they were unable to do certain banking operations necessary for publication of the newspaper.
The managing editor of the magazine Le Partisan, Amiel Nkuliza, was arrested on 31 December in Kigali and taken to the local CID offices. He was accused of publishing articles on dissension in the MDR, the Republican Democratic Movement, a member of the ruling coalition. According to the journalist, police officers asked him to reveal his sources. He refused but his home was searched and the manuscript of an interview with Pierre Gakwandi, former MDR general secretary, was found. On 3 January 2002 the political leader was arrested and the journalist was released on parole although he has to report regularly to the police.
Four journalists arrested
On 1 June 2001 former state president Pasteur Bizimungu officially launched the PDR (Democratic Revival Party). He contacted the press and especially Ismaël Mbonigaba, managing editor of Umuseso, and his colleague Shyaka Kanuma. The two men were arrested after making notes of Pasteur Bizimungu’s statements and released at around midnight. On the same day BBC correspondent Thomas Kamilindi and VOA correspondent Lucie Umukundwa also interviewed the former president. They immediately received threatening phone calls from senior officials in the intelligence services. Eventually, under pressure, the two journalists handed over their recording to the authorities.
Elly Mcdowell Kalisa, journalist with the weekly Umuseso, was arrested by police at the Gatuna border post, near Uganda, along with Casimiry Kayumba, managing editor of Ukuri. C. Kayumba was immediately released but 500 copies of his newspaper were destroyed by the rain. The two journalists were returning from Kampala in Uganda where their publications were printed. All copies of Umuseso were also seized. Elly Mcdowell Kalisa was taken to Kigali and accused of publishing a page on sex education. The authorities described this information as "pornographic". The journalist was released in the evening after the managing editor of Umuseso had undertaken not to publish this type of information again.
Pressure and obstruction
On 13 April Gérard Mbanda, editor-in-chief of national television, was dismissed. The general management of ORINFOR, the Rwandan information office, accused him of allowing a report to be broadcast in which the state president was presented "in a bad light". The film in question showed Paul Kagame take off his glasses, wipe the sweat from his brow and look for a verse in the Bible.
President Paul Kagame has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders