New York, August 9, 2002—Three journalists who had been sentenced to 30 days of “preventative detention” were released on Wednesday, August 7, on the condition that they remain in the capital, Kigali, and report regularly to the police. However, it is unclear whether the charges against them have been dropped.
Robert Sebufirira, Elly MacDowell Kalisa, and Emmanuel Munyaneza, all with the independent weekly Umuseso, were detained on July 17 and charged with assault, battery, and insulting a police officer. They were sentenced on July 23. [See CPJ’s July 23 letter.]
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 had been in detention since July 17.
“While we are relieved that our colleagues have been released, they never should have been detained in the first place,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “These ridiculous charges should be dropped immediately, and officials should lift all restrictions on the journalists’ movement.”