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Rwanda21 January 2008

Newspaper editor freed after she completes one-year prison sentence

Reporters Without Borders notes that Agnès Nkusi Uwimana, the editor of the privately-owned fortnightly Umurabyo, was released on 19 January on completing the one-year sentence for “creating divisions,” “sectarianism” and “defamation” that she was given by a Kigali court on 20 April. She was arrested on 12 January 2007.

“We welcome her release even if it did not take place until the completion of her jail term, and we reiterate our outrage that such a severe and unfair sentence was imposed in the first place,” the press freedom organisation said. “The charges against her were politically motivated and were clearly aimed at suppressing one of the country’s few independent publications.”

Uwimana was arrested on the orders of the Nyarugenge prosecutor’s office amid a controversy about a column 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.

When she appeared in court on 20 April, she admitted the charges, promised to publish a correction, requested forgiveness from all those who felt wronged by what she had written and asked the court to show clemency. Instead the court imposed the one-year sentence and ordered her to pay a fine of 400,000 Rwandan francs (560 euros) and damages of 2.8 million Rwandan francs (3,900 euros).

On leaving prison, Uwimana said she intended to relaunch her newspaper, which has not been published since her arrest.

Meanwhile, Peter Verlinden of the Belgian public TV station VRT was refused a Rwandan visa for being very critical of the government in several past programmes. He was supposed to be part of a delegation accompanying Belgian cooperation and development minister Charles Michel on a visit to the Great Lakes region but was forced to leave the delegation’s plane during a stopover in Goma, in Democratic Republic of Congo. His cameraman and soundman were allowed into Rwanda.

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