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Rwanda13 February 2007

Editor beaten unconscious amid growing government hostility towards independent press

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about a physical attack on Jean-Bosco Gasasira, the managing editor of the independent fortnightly Umuvugizi, who was beaten unconscious on 9 February in Kigali. It followed months of verbal hostility from the Rwandan government towards the more outspoken, privately-owned media.

“When we condemned the threats being made against Gasasira, the intelligence services accused him of seeking cheap publicity,” the press freedom organisation said. “When we asked the Rwandan government to put an end to the hostility towards the more critical media, it responded that we were misinformed.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Now that an editor has just emerged from a coma caused by a beating, strong measures must be taken as a matter of urgency. This must start with a gesture from President Paul Kagame, who must finally learn to listen to the independent press instead of treating it as an enemy.”

Gasasira was attacked and beaten senseless by unidentified assailants late on the afternoon of 9 February and was admitted to King Faisal hospital in a critical condition. He finally recovered consciousness today. After visiting him in hospital, information minister Laurent Nkusi announced that the police were investigating and had arrested a suspect. However, the person detained insists he had no role in the attack and was just one of several people who stopped to help the victim.

Gasasira had received repeated telephone threats since last August, while his movements have been monitored by military intelligence agents. “I get calls from private numbers in which I am threatened with being beaten to death,” he told Reporters Without Borders before the attack.

He refused to reveal to the authorities information about Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the editor of the privately-owned weekly Umuco, who went into hiding after he, too, was seriously threatened. The intelligence services responded to the accusations by accusing Umuco and other privately-owned newspapers of seeking “cheap popularity.”

Umuvugizi was also criticised by the Rwandan authorities for accusing economy and finance minister James Musoni of favouritism, an accusation that was also made by Umuco and another independent newspaper, the fortnightly Umuseso.

Last year was marked by a considerable degree of hostility between the government and a sector of the independent press. It began with a physical attack on Bizumuremyi by four unidentified assailants with the aim for forcing him to stop carrying reports critical of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR).

The start of 2007 has seen a further increase in tension. At a news conference on 22 January, President Kagame turned on Umuseso reporter Emmanuel Niyonteze when he asked him about his rapprochement with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. Since then Niyonteze has been receiving anonymous threats.

The governmental press has also been displaying hostility towards some news media, especially the US public radio station Voice of America (VOA). During a news conference on 2 February, Franck Ndamage, a journalist with the state-owned weekly Imvaho Nshya, even called for VOA’s closure for alleged bias in favour of the Rwandan opposition.

After expelling Sonia Rolley, the correspondent of the French public radio station, Radio France Internationale (RFI), without any explanation in June 2006, the government ordered the closure of RFI’s local FM relay station in November after breaking off diplomatic relations with France.

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