The Gacaca, the traditional courts established by the Rwandan authorities to try the alleged perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, started their work on 19 June 2002. More than 100,000 persons were supposed to be appear before these courts, including several journalists who could come before a Gacaca in 2003.
The Rwandan press still lacks diversity. The few independent or opposition newspapers were harassed by the authorities. The weekly Umuseso, for example, was constantly targeted by the authorities. The minister for local government and social affairs, Désiré Nyandwi, called the newspaper a "genocidal propagandist" in comments carried by Radio Rwanda on 7 January. In mid-November, the same minister announced the cancellation of celebrations for African Press Day in which Umuseso was to have received the runner-up prize for best Rwandan newspaper.
The president’s office and the rest of the government continued to keep a close watch on the local press. Anything remotely to do with the now imprisoned former president, Pasteur Bizimungu, or his banned Party for Democratic Renewal (PDR-Ubuyanja) appeared to be taboo. The press could not mention them without risking threats or prosecution.
The national assembly passed a fairly liberal press law at the start of June. Three articles establishing long prison terms or the death sentence for incitement to commit genocide were withdrawn at the request of press organisations. The law allowed the private sector to enter broadcasting, which had been restricted to state-owned radio and TV stations since the 1994 genocide. As soon as it took effect in July, seven applications for a radio frequency were made. But the authorities said any decision would have to await the creation of a High Council of the Press which would have the job of issuing licences and assigning frequencies. No date was set for its creation.
The "hate media" trial, which began in October 2000, resumed on 11 February before the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. Ferdinand Nahimana, a co-founder and former director of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, one of RTLM’s co-founders, and Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the extremist magazine Kangura, were charged with genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, to which they pleaded not guilty. On 27 February, the court began hearing testimony from George Ruggiu, a former RTLM presenter of Italian and Belgian origin, who received a 12-year prison sentence from the ICTR after pleading guilty. He said RTLM’s programmes were strictly controlled by the station’s de facto management and the authorities, and nothing was broadcast that did not suit the ruling party. He also said that Nahimana and Barayagwiza often visited the station after 6 April 1994, giving instructions on what to broadcast. Lawyers acting for Nahimana and Barayagwiza asked the court on 16 September to acquit their clients of all charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
A journalist killed
Jean-Marie Hategekimana, a journalist with the state-owned weekly Imvaho, was murdered in a bar in the Gatenga district of Kigali on the night of 11 March 2002. Witnesses said he was talking with three other people, including a local representative of Ibuka, an organisation of genocide survivors, when two individuals in civilian dress burst in, demanded money from the group, and then opened fire on them before leaving. All four were killed. Hategekimana was buried on 14 March. At the end of 2002, it was still impossible to say if his death was linked to his work as a journalist.
At least 25 journalists were in prison in Rwanda at the end of 2002. All were accused of participating, in one form or another, in the 1994 genocide. After carrying out enquiries, Reporters Without Borders concluded that only two of these cases constituted press freedom violations, those of Dominique Makeli and Tatiana Mukakibibi. In all other cases, Reporters Without Borders did not have enough information to reach a firm conclusion on the reasons for imprisonment.
Dominique Makeli, a journalist with Radio Rwanda, was being held in Kigali central prison (PCK) in 2002. During the first few days of the genocide, he fled to the western town of Kibuye where one of his sons had been killed the previous month by Interahamwe (extremist Hutu militiamen). Back in Kigali, he was detained at his home on 18 September 1994 by an agent of the Department of Military Intelligence (DMI). In 1995 and 1996, he was accused of organising protests inside Rilima prison, and was beaten several times, along with another journalist, Amiel Nkuliza. He was questioned for the first time by the prosecutor’s office in March 1997, two years after his arrest.
Kigali state prosecutor Sylvaire Gatambiye told Reporters Without Borders in October 2001 that Makeli was accused of incitement to commit genocide in his reports. While covering an appearance of the Virgin in Kibeho, in the west of the country, in May 1994, he allegedly said, "The parent is in heaven." The prosecutor claimed that, in the context of that moment, this was taken to mean, "President Habyarimana is in heaven." This was supposedly interpreted by the population as a message of support for Habyarimana and, by extension, the policy of exterminating Tutsis. Reporters Without Borders obtained a recording of this programme and played it to Rwandans who were in the country at the time of the genocide. None of them thought Makeli was fomenting hate.
Tatiana Mukakibibi was a programme presenter and producer at Radio Rwanda. She presented music and entertainment programmes, reading announcements and dedications. She went on a reporting trip to Cyangugu, in the east of the country, on 6 April 1994 and returned to Kigali in 16 April. Among the things she read on the air in the following weeks were official communiques and lists of persons who had died that were sent by the prefectures. On 4 July, the radio station broadcast a final communique announcing the evacuation of Kigali. Mukakibibi sought refuge with other journalists in Bukavu, in Democratic Republic of Congo. On 10 August, she returned to Rwanda, to Kapgayi, near Gitamara, where she worked with Abbot André Sibomana (the former director of Kinyamateka and a Reporters Without Borders - France Foundation laureate, who died in March 1998). She was arrested on 3 August 1995 and was held for a few days at a military camp near Gitarama. Fearing reprisals, she fled to Uganda and returned to Rwanda on 30 September 1996. Two days later, police detained her at her home in Ntenyo (Gitarama) and took her to the local prison where she was still being held in very poor conditions at the end of 2002.
Mukakibibi was interrogated several times in the months following her arrest. She was accused of distributing arms, drawing up lists of persons to be killed, and killing or arranging the killing of Eugène Bwanamudogo, a Tutsi who produced radio programmes for the agriculture ministry. A witness who lived with Mukakibibi at the time of the genocide told Reporters Without Borders that she could not have killed Bwanamudogo because he died in the first few days of the genocide when she was preparing a report in Cyangugu. Furthermore, one of Bwanamudogo’s brothers reportedly told this witness that he was killed by soldiers. Mukakibibi was apparently arrested on the basis of a report by Bwanamudogo’s sister Laetitia, which may have been motivated by a family resentment based on the supposed participation of Mukakibibi’s brother Damascène Muhinda in a massacre of members of Bwanamudogo’s family.
A previously imprisoned journalist released in 2002
Gédéon Mushimiyimana, a former journalist with the state-owned TV broadcaster who had been accused of participation in the 1994 genocide, was released on 11 November 2002 after six months in prison. At the start of November, the Gitarama prosecutor’s office had taken the journalist and other detainees and shown them to the population in the village they came from. As the villagers did not accuse Mushimiyimana of anything, he was granted a provisional release a few days later. His case was to come before a Gacaca special court in 2003.
Five journalists imprisoned and released in 2002
Laurien Ntezimana, the publisher of Ubuntu, a newsletter put out by AMI, an organisation that promotes non-violence, and his editor Didace Muremangingo were arrested on 26-27 January in the southern town of Butare by judicial police, who immediately incarcerated them in the town’s central prison. The official reason for their arrest was unknown, but they were interrogated about the AMI’s supposed political activities and the use in its logo of the word "ubuyanja," one that was used by former President Pasteur Bizimungu in the name of his now banned party, the Party for Democratic Renewal (PDR-Ubuyanja). Ubuntu journalists Dieudonné Munyankiko and Ignace Ndayahundwa and Marie Goretti Mukakalisa, AMI’s financial manager, were also briefly interrogated on 29 January. Ntezimana and Muremangingo were released on 20 February on the orders of the Nyabisindu appeal court on the grounds that they were incarcerated without a judge’s permission and there were no substantive charges against them. They were nonetheless required for several months to remain available to the judicial authorities and could not leave Butare.
Elly Mac Dowell Kalisa and Munyaneza Godfrey, journalists with the independent weekly Umuseso, were detained on 17 July along with other persons who, like them, witnessed an operation by police against a suspect in the Kiyovu neighbourhood of Kigali. The newspaper’s editor Robert Sebufirira was also arrested when he went to give evidence on their behalf the next day. Accused of interfering with the work of the police, they were brought before judges in a closed-door court session on 23 July and were provisionally detained for 30 days. At their lawyer’s request, they were released pending trial.
A journalist arrested
Ismael Mbonigaba, publisher of the weekly Umuseso, was summoned to the Kacyru police station in Kigali on 18 May 2002 and was questioned for seven hours about an article "denigrating the head of state." In the offending piece, Umuseso had derided a speech in which President Kagame referred to Rwandans as "silly." Mbonigaba was released late at night but his passport was confiscated. He returned to the police station on 25 May and underwent further questioning, after which the police refused to return his passport, preventing him from attending a conference in Burundi.
Pressure and obstruction
Rwanda Herald publisher Asuman Bisiika, a Ugandan citizen, was escorted to the Ugandan border and handed over to border guards on 19 May 2002, after being given 10 minutes to gather his personal belongings. The Rwanda Herald had been very critical of the government and had published several reports about the imprisoned former president.