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Rwanda8 August 2002

Three journalists arbitrarily arrested


Following their appeal, the three journalists were provisionally released on 7 August. The date of their trial is not yet known.


The journalists were remanded in custody for 30 days when they appeared in camera on 23 July before an examining magistrate, along with an army sergeant who was accused with them. The journalists’ lawyer, Jean-Paul Biramvu, was not told of the court sitting and so was absent. He complained that he had not been given details of the charges and said the soldier, who pleaded guilty, should have been tried by a military court. The journalists filed an appeal.


Robert Sebufirira, editor of the privately-owned weekly Umuseso, and two of the paper’s reporters, Elly MacDowell Kalisa and Godfrey Munyaneza, were arrested and jailed in Kigali on 17 and 18 July after witnessing an incident of police brutality.

"Nothing appears to justify these arrests of journalists simply doing their job," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Rwandan justice minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo. "It looks like an excuse to hit once more at the newspaper and contradicts President Paul Kagame’s recent statements that the country is on the road to democracy."

He called for the immediate release of the journalists and the dropping of the charges against them.

The three had been chance witnesses late on 17 July to police roughing up a man near a bar in the Kiyovu district of Kigali. Bystanders urged the journalists denounce the police behaviour in the paper. When police reinforcements arrived, the crowd, including the two reporters, was arrested Sebufirira was detained the next day after he had given a statement to police.

The journalists were accused interfering with police operations, refusing to obey police orders and breaking a police walkie-talkie. The paper, which is disliked by the authorities, has decided not to publish again until the journalists are released. They are due to appear in court before 26 July for a bail hearing. The date of their trial is not yet known.

Umuseso’s then-editor, Ismael Mbonigaba, was summoned by police in Kacyru on 18 May and interrogated for seven hours about an article in the paper considered insulting to President Kagame. The paper had sarcastically commented on a speech in which he had called Rwandans "idiots." Mbonigaba was freed later that day but his passport was confiscated. He was interrogated again on 25 May and subsequently fled abroad.

Kagame is on Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide list of predators of press freedom

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