Three journalists sentenced to "preventative detention"

July 29, 2002 12:00 PM ET

July 29, 2002
President Paul Kagame
Office of the President
Urugwiro Village
P.O. Box 15
Kigali, Rwanda

Via facsimile: 250-84390

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about your government's continued harassment of independent journalists.

On July 23, Robert Sebufirira, Elly MacDowell Kalisa, and Emmanuel Munyaneza, all journalists with the independent weekly Umuseso, were sentenced to 30 days of "preventative detention" by a court in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. They are currently in the city's central prison.

The charges stem from a July 17 incident that took place at Bar Addis Ethiopian in the Kiyovu district of Kigali. Sebufirira, Kalisa, and Munyaneza arrived at the establishment after work and found a crowd gathered outside. When they went to investigate, they learned that the proprietor of the bar had called the police to deal with a rowdy patron who then attempted to resist arrest once the police arrived.

The patron identified himself as a member of the military and claimed that civilian police did not have the authority to arrest him. A fistfight ensued between the police and the patron, and some of the bystanders reportedly started shouting at the journalists to take note of the police and the soldier's conduct and make sure to report it in the newspaper.

The military police arrived soon after and promptly arrested the journalists, as well as the patron who had earlier fought the civilian police. The journalists were taken into custody and charged with assault, battery, and insulting a police officer. They have been in detention since July 17.

Your Excellency, several eyewitness accounts indicate that the journalists were not involved in any physical confrontation and were simply observers. As Rwanda's only independent, Kinyarwanda-language publication, Umuseso has consistently criticized Your Excellency's regime and has written extensively about police misconduct. Therefore, the evidence suggests, according to CPJ sources in Kigali, that the spurious charges against the journalists are an attempt to prevent the newspaper from revealing possible police misconduct.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to promoting and defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns such attacks on the independent press. We urge Your Excellency to ensure that independent media outlets are not harassed and to allow Rwandan journalists to practice their profession without fear of reprisal.

We also encourage you to ensure that members of the police and the military respect the media's right to publish critical stories about their conduct and to do everything within your power to see that Robert Sebufirira, Elly MacDowell Kalisa, and Emmanuel Munyaneza are released.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.



Sincerely,

Ann Cooper
Executive Director

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