Reporters Without Borders wrote to Rwandan President Paul Kagame yesterday in an attempt to persuade him to reverse his 27 November decision to stop FM retransmission of the French public radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Rwanda. The text of the letter, which is signed by the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, follows:
"Our organisation is not taking a position on the crisis between France and Rwanda resulting from the conclusion of an investigation by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, which led your government to immediately break off diplomatic relations. We would simply like to explain to you why we think a news media of this standard should again be made available to the Rwandan public.
The sudden termination of RFI’s broadcasts in a fit of governmental anger bodes ill for press freedom in Rwanda. It was a political action aimed at punishing France and its institutions for a decision taken by the French judiciary.
In Reporters Without Borders’ view, nothing can justify silencing this news media. Punishing its country of origin or preventing the Rwandan public from hearing its news broadcasts are not valid reasons. It is an act of censorship contrary to democratic principles. It is also akin to blaming a foreign citizen for events taking place in their country, which is both unfair and dangerous.
In our view, it is an error of judgment to identify RFI with the French government. RFI is known for the variety of its programming, its efforts to get close to its listeners and the conscientiousness of its journalists. The station’s management has publicly explained in the past that its statutes give it “complete editorial independence,” a degree of freedom which it has had the occasion to demonstrate. Reporters Without Borders cannot forget how, during the dark years before you became president, RFI correspondent Jean Hélène was one of the foreign reporters who covered the mounting dangers in Rwanda and the catastrophe of the 1994 genocide with the most lucidity and courage.
RFI has repeatedly demonstrated its independence and has sometimes paid a high price for it. Its correspondent was expelled from Senegal in 2003 for her coverage of the war that makes life difficult for the population in the southern region of Casamance. The same punishment you have just inflicted was also imposed on RFI in Côte d’Ivoire in 2005, a year after Jean Hélène was murdered there. RFI’s correspondent in Madagascar was abruptly forced to return to France in 2005 despite his great love for Madagascar. RFI’s correspondent in Democratic Republic of Congo was the target of a very disturbing hate campaign this year and finally had to leave.
RFI has been and continues to be a quality news outlet that is respected and appreciated by Rwandans. As a result, the leading victim of this measure is the Rwandan public, which has suffered a reduction in the diversity of the news sources available to it. Reporters Without Borders urges you not to make RFI’s Rwandan listeners pay the price of a political crisis between your country and France.
I hope you will be persuaded by our arguments."