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Rwanda14 August 2006

Umuvugizi editor latest target in harassment of independent press

Bosco Gasasira, the editor of the weekly Umuvugizi, told Reporters Without Borders today he has been receiving telephone threats and has been under surveillance by military intelligence whenever he goes out since 10 August. “Some calls from ‘private numbers’ have threatened me with being beaten to death,” he said.

Gasasira refused to give the authorities any information about the location of Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the editor of the independent weekly Umuco, who has been in hiding ever since he received serious threats.

Like Umuco and another independent newspaper, Umseso, Gasasira’s weekly has also been targeted by the Rwandan authorities for criticising economy and finance minister James Musoni. Gasasira ran an article accusing him of “influence trafficking” and bias in the distribution of key posts with the aim of controlling the economy.

8.08.2006 - One newspaper editor goes missing, another targeted by threats and smears

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about the editors of two independent weeklies, Bonaventure Bizumuremyi of Umuco and Charles Kabonero of Umuseso. Bizumuremyi went missing 24 hours after the police came to his newspaper to arrest him, while Kabonero is the target of a government-orchestrated campaign of threats and false accusations.

“Rwanda’s last remaining independent newspapers have to struggle to survive in an increasingly hostile climate,” the press freedom organisation said. “If the government were trying to silence all the publications that fail to flatter it, this is how it would go about it.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Trials, threats, intimidation and smears - they are all used to punish independent journalists who dare to take too much interest in those in power. If the information minister wants to continue to insist on his commitment to press freedom without being criticised by journalists’ organisations, the harassment of Umuco and Umuseso must stop.”

Police came in a pickup to Umuco’s office at 1:30 pm on 3 August looking for Bizumuremyi. The head of the criminal investigation department, Maurice Muligo, ordered him to follow them. Bizumuremyi refused to go without a proper summons. Muligo wrote one on the spot, ordering him to report to police headquarters within the hour (although Rwandan law says people should be given 48 hours to report to the police).

The day before, Bizumuremyi appeared before the High Council of the Press, a government-controlled regulatory body, on charges of publishing “sensationalist” articles “violating the privacy of certain political leaders.” The HCP objected above all to an article saying President Paul Kagame had influenced judges in his comments about Col. Patrick Karegeya, a former army spokesman who has just been convicted of insubordination and desertion by a court martial. Karegeya, who used to be a Kagame supporter and even ran the foreign intelligence service for 10 years, was publicly described by the president as “useless and anything.”

According to sources contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Bizumuremyi tried in vain to find a lawyer to defend him after receiving the visit from the police. But all the lawyers he spoke to requested prohibitive fees or said they would first need a green light from the Kigali bar association before accepting. His family has not had any word from him since 5 August and none of his phone numbers can be reached.

Just over six months ago, on the night of 15 January, four men armed with clubs and knives attacked Bizumuremyi and told him to stop writing articles criticising the government.

Kabonero meanwhile received a call on 5 August from an anonymous source within the foreign intelligence service warning that he was about to be arrested and that a plan was afoot to have Umuseso, Rwanda Newsline (another newspaper he edits) and Umuco closed. The plan was said to have been hatched by military intelligence chief Jack Nziza, finance and planning minister James Musoni, who is one of the “barons” of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR), and presidential security adviser Emmanuel Ndahiro.

“Their plan is first of all to go around all the western embassies spreading rumours about our newspapers,” Kabonero told Reporters Without Borders. The smear campaign would also use the daily New Times, the weekly Umuvugizi and the fortnightly Focus, which are the only three newspapers that get advertising from government entities and companies linked to the FPR.

This phone call came two days after the Rwandan high court sentenced Kabonero on appeal to a suspended one-year prison term and a fine of 1 million Rwandan francs (1,450 euros) for a piece of political analysis published in 2004. Kabonero’s suspended sentence could be changed to an actual prison term on the least pretext.

Kabonero has been the target of an aggressive smear campaign since the start of the year, especially in Focus. After being accused of collaborating with the political opposition in exile, he was alleged to have forged evidence of threats used by political asylum applicants in Europe. No evidence was produced to support this claims against Kabonero.

In April, Focus used a forged e-mail message to accuse him of conspiring with Lt. Abdul Ruzibiza - a former officer in the FPR’s special services who has now sought political asylum abroad - to launch a wave of bombings in Kigali and bring down the government. Although the message published in Focus was a crude forgery, Reporters Without Borders investigated the allegations and found them to be baseless.

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