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Rwanda20 April 2007

Woman editor gets a year in prison for article about ethnic discrimination

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the one-year prison sentence imposed by a Kigali court on 20 April on Agnès Nkusi Uwimana, the editor of the fortnightly Umurabyo, after she pleaded guilty to charges of “creating divisions,” “sectarianism” and “defamation.”

Uwimana had been held since 12 January for writing a column headlined “You have problems if you kill a Tutsi, but you go free if you kill a Hutu.” She recognised in court “the gravity of my writings” and promised to “publish a correction.”

Her lawyer said she recognised that her article could have up upset some people and she asked them to forgive her. He said she also requested “the clemency of the Rwandan courts” and “a reduction of penalties to be imposed on her.”

The judge said he would take account of Uwimana’s confession and halve the penalty. As well as a year in prison, he sentenced her to pay a fine of 400,000 Rwandan francs (560 euros) and damages of 2.8 million Rwandan francs (3.900 euros).

The prosecutor initially requested a prison sentence of five years, six months and eight days. Uwimana and her lawyer have not yet decided whether they will appeal.

19.01.2007 - Judge orders 30 days of pretrial custody for newspaper editor

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a Kigali judge’s decision on 19 January to place Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned fortnightly Umurabyo, in custody for 30 days while she awaits trial on charges of “promoting divisions,” sectarianism and libel.

“Given that the charges are so political and vague, the court issued an unfair decision and rode roughshod over the principle of a presumption of innocence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Even if Nkusi acknowledged that her article may have had a negative impact and offered to publish a correction, the judge has sided with the authorities and supported their evident desire to eliminate one of Rwanda’s very few independent newspapers. If this case is to be handled fairly, Nkusi must be freed.”

The 30-day detention order was issued by the judge of the Nyarugenge local court in Kigali at the state prosecutor’s request on the grounds that Nkusi represented a threat to the country’s security. The court thereby gave prosecutors more time to prepare the case against her, which was prompted by an article in issue No. 10 of Umurabyo and a letter published in issue No. 11.

Nkusi recognised during the 19 January hearing that the column she wrote headlined “You have problems if you kill a Tutsi, but you go free if you kill a Hutu” could have had “a bad impact” and she undertook to write another column correcting the position she took. As regards the letter addressed to Rwanda’s independent journalists that was published in issue No. 11, she explained that it was sent to several news media but only hers chose to publish it.

15.01.2007 - Newspaper editor arrested for criticising press freedom violations

Reporters Without Borders today called for the release of Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, who has been held at the Muhima district police station in Kigali since 12 January for publishing an open letter condemning press freedom violations.

“The government cannot dispute claims that it does not tolerate criticism and at the same time systematically target the independent press with all the tools placed at its disposal by draconian legislation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In a democracy, it is not the job of the police to regulate the media. This should be done by independent bodies that everyone respects.”

Arrested by police on the orders of the Nyarugenge prosecutor’s office on charges of “sectarianism” and “discrimination,” Nkusi was interrogated by the deputy prosecutor about an open letter to independent journalists on the subject of press freedom violations, which she published in issue No. 11 of Umurabyo.

The police said the authorities intended to arrest her sources and bring the same charges against them. Nkusi is due to appear tomorrow before a judge, who will decide whether she remains in detention.

Umurabyo is one of the very few Kigali-based publications that criticise the government. There was already controversy over an article in the preceding issue headlined: “You have problems if you kill a Tutsi, but you go free if you kill a Hutu.”

The High Council of the Press, a regulatory body controlled by the government, ruled that Umurabyo should be suspended for three months because of the article. To take effect, the decision needed to be confirmed by the information ministry. This was still pending when Nkusi was arrested.

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