Reporters Without Borders welcomed the sentences of life imprisonment passed today by the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha (Tanzania) on Ferdinand Nahimana, one of the founders of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), and Hassan Ngueze, former editor of the magazine Kangura.
The two journalists were convicted for their role in 1994 genocide that took 800,000 lives. Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, another RTLM staff member, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
"We are pleased that this case has finally reached a conclusion despite countless procedural delays and obstacles," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "This is the first time that journalists have been sentenced to life imprisonment for incitement to murder and violence in their reports," he said.
"We hope these sentences are seen as a warning to the many journalists in Africa and elsewhere who also stir up hate in their writing," Ménard added. "Even if no country is today in a situation comparable to Rwanda’s at the time of the genocide, these sentences should serve as a call to order to all the publications that constantly flout the most elementary rules of professional ethics and conduct."
This so-called hate media trial began in October 2000. In August of this year, the ICTR prosecutor requested life sentences for the three defendants, who pleaded not guilty. A fourth journalist, Georges Ruggiu, a Belgian, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in June 2000 for "incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity" on RTLM. Ruggiu pleaded guilty and voiced regret for his part in events, the extent of which he claimed not to have understood at the time.
Before and during the genocide, RTLM, Kangura and other news media listed the names and addresses of future victims for the militia, sometimes talking directly of eliminating the "enemy." Ngeze, for example, wrote in January 1994 in Kangura: "What isn’t being said to the inyenzi [meaning "cockroaches," the media’s name for the Tutsis] is that if they raise their heads again, it won’t be necessary to go and fight the enemy remaining in the bush. Instead we will start by purging the internal enemy... they will disappear."
RTLM invited the population in April 1994 to hunt down "the foreigners of the Rwandan Patriotic Front [the ruling FPR]." The station also urged the military to step up "the elimination of the inkotanyi [the FPR fighters] and their accomplices and leave no survivors who could later accuse them."
Arrested in Cameroon on 26 March 1996, Nahimana was a director of the Rwandan Information Office as well as an active participant in creating RTLM in 1993 with Félicien Kabuga, the chairman of its board, now wanted by the ICTR. Nahima contacted the authorities to obtain the authorisations needed to launch the station. He is alleged to have been one of the regime’s ideologues and to have brought together the RTLM staff who directly called for the murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus on the air. During the trial, he denied having any control of the station’s editorial policies.
Barayagwiza, who was also arrested in Cameroon on 26 March 1996, is a former director of political affairs at the foreign ministry and a member of RTLM’s founding committee. He refused to take part in the trial, challenging the ICTR’s independence and claiming that it was being manipulated by the Rwandan government.
Arrested in Kenya on 18 July 1997, Ngese was one of the most radical Hutu extremists before, during and after the genocide as well as being editor of Kangura, a extremist magazine that appeared every two weeks. The ICTR said his articles in Kangura "helped pave the way for the genocide of the Tutsis and incited murder or serious violations of the mental integrity of Tutsis and certain Hutus."
Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngueze are all being held in ICTR detention centres in Arusha.