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Rwanda18 August 2003

Reporters Without Borders calls on candidates in presidential election to make commitment to respect press freedom

With the presidential election in Rwanda just one week away, Reporters Without Borders has called on each of the four candidates to make a personal commitment to respect press freedom.

"We urge you to take a public stand on this issue and to recommend concrete measures to promote press freedom," the organisation said to each of the four candidates. The candidates include current President Paul Kagame, former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, former parliamentarian Jean-Népomuscène Nayinzira and Alivera Mukabaramba, the first woman to join a presidential election race in Rwanda.

"News coverage is all the same in Rwanda, and the few independent newspapers that do exist operate in difficult circumstances," the organisation underlined, while recalling that these publications are quite often the target of administrative harassment. Reporters Without Borders also recalled that the first issue of one such independent paper, "Indorerwamo", was seized by police in April 2003.

Reporters Without Borders also deplored the fact that Rwanda remains one of the last countries in the region and on the African continent to not have any private audio-visual media outlets. In fact, Rwandan authorities point to the example of the broadcaster Milles Collines Free Radio-television in order to highlight the potential danger that private radio stations could represent for the country. Reporters Without Borders considers this argument to be obsolete in the current context.

Reporters Without Borders also raised the cases of Dominique Makeli and Tatiana Mukakibibi, two imprisoned journalists whom it has supported for many years. The organisation believes these journalists did nothing more than exercise their professional duties and has urged the presidential candidates to make a commitment to release them both as soon as possible.

Makeli, formerly with Radio Rwanda, has been detained in Kigali’s central prison since 1994. Kigali State Prosecutor Sylvaire Gatambiye told Reporters Without Borders in October 2001 that Makeli had "incited people to genocide with his reports." In May 1994, the journalist covered an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary in the western town of Kibeho and had reported her supposed words, "The parent is in heaven." The prosecutor said that at the time, this would have meant "President [Juvenal] Habyarimana is in heaven." Listeners would have interpreted this as divine support for the former president and, by extension, the policy of exterminating Tutsis. Reporters Without Borders obtained a recording of the broadcast and played it to several Rwandans. None interpreted it to be an incitement to hatred.

Mukakibibi was an on-air host and programme producer at Radio Rwanda. She hosted entertainment and music programmes. On 6 April 1994, she was on assignment in Cyangugu, in eastern Rwanda. On 4 July 1994, Mukakibibi sought refuge with other journalists in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. She returned to Rwanda on 10 August and went to Kapgayi (near Gitarama), where she had started working with Father André Sibomana. Police arrested her at her Ntenyo (Gitarama) home in early October 1996. She was thrown into a common cell, where she is still being held in very harsh conditions.

In the months following her arrest, the journalist was accused of either murdering Eugène Bwanamudogo or having him killed. Bwanamudogo was a Tutsi who produced radio programmes for the Ministry of Agriculture. A witness who was living with Mukakibibi at the time of the genocide told Reporters Without Borders that she could not have killed Bwanamudogo because he had reportedly died during the first days of the genocide, when the journalist was on assignment in Cyangugu. Moreover, one of Bwanamudogo’s brothers reportedly told this same witness that his brother was killed by soldiers. Mukakibibi is thought to have been arrested at the instigation of Bwanamudogo’s sister Laetitia. The two families were rivals. The journalist’s brother, Damascène Muhinda, allegedly took part in the massacre of several of Bwanamudogo’s family members.

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