Attacks on the Press 1999: Rwanda

The prosecution of Rwandan journalists suspected of inciting members of the ethnic Hutu community to massacre ethnic Tutsis in 1994 proceeded in fits and starts over the last three months of the year. Four journalists currently face charges that include incitement to genocide.

In June, Belgian-born radio-talk show host Georges Ruggiu admitted his involvement with the Hutu-led government that planned and perpetrated the slaughter of up to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. Valérie Bemeriki, another journalist with the Hutu-controlled Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), who was arrested in July, claimed her superiors had pressured her to join the “hate radio” campaign. Also indicted were Hassan Ngeze, editor of the newspaper Kangura, and Helene Nyirabikari, editor of the government-owned weekly Imhavo.

The idea of a group trial, also called the “media trial,” was dropped in early August when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, ordered the release of RTLM cofounder Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza. The judges explained that Barayagwiza, who was arrested in March 1996, had been detained too long without trial.

Rwandan political life was dominated by the Arusha tribunal and the civil war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Rwandan troops have been backing DRC rebels fighting the government of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Early in the year, the Tutsi-led government of Rwandan president Pastor Bizimungu justified its involvement in the DRC conflict by linking it to its determination to protect Rwanda’s border from extremist, DRC-based Hutu rebel groups supported by Kabila, including those responsible for the 1994 genocide.

But while independent Rwandan journalists welcomed the arrests of génocidaires and other members of the DRC-based Hutu militias that sporadically raid Rwandan villages along the DRC border, they generally opposed the government’s interference in the DRC civil war.

February 26
John Mugabi, The Newsline IMPRISONED

Mugabi, editor of the monthly English-language newspaper The Newsline, was placed in detention after being summoned to the office of Kigali prosecutor Emmanuel Rukangira. The detention was in response to a complaint lodged against the journalist by Lt. Col. Frank Rusagara, secretary general of the Ministry of Defense, for “diffusion of false information and defamation.” The charges were connected to an article written by Mugabi and published in the February 3 Ð March 3 edition of The Newsline, which reported that Lieutenant Colonel. Rusagara had received 10 percent of the cost of spare parts for military helicopters ($3.3 million) purchased by the Rwandan government. Rukangira ordered Mugabi’s arrest after the journalist refused to reveal the name of his source, a “high-ranking official at the Ministry of Defense.”

Mugabi was taken to two separate police camps in Kigali before being transferred to the Kimironko central prison, where he was held incommunicado, even though his family was granted official permission to visit him. He was released in September (date unavailable).