CPJ concerned about detention of journalists and seizure of newspaper

New York, November 21, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the two-day detention of six journalists from the independent Rwandan newspaper Umuseso and the confiscation of the latest edition of the weekly.

Editor Robert Sebufirira said he was arrested at about 9:30 a.m. on November 19 near the Rwanda-Uganda border as he was bringing back 4,000 copies of the newspaper from the printers. The newspaper is printed in Uganda for financial reasons. Police seized the copies and took Sebufirira to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Later that day, Umuseso deputy editor Kalisa McDowell; journalists Furaha Mugisha, Emmanuel Munyaneza, and Charles Kabonero; and driver Budeyi Nassan went to CID to inquire after Sebufirira and were also detained.

Sebufirira said the journalists were separated and interrogated about an article in the seized edition of the newspaper, which questioned why certain senior army officers were being demobilized. He said the article also questioned why taxpayers’ money had been used to send Major General Kyumba Nyamwasa, director of the national security services, on a U.K. training course if he was being demobilized.

A police spokesman told CPJ that the article was “aimed at inciting sectarian behavior.” The journalists denied this claim.

The journalists, who said that the police hit them, questioned them about their sources, and gave them water but hardly any food, were released today without charge.

Local journalists and human rights activists expressed fears that Umuseso was being harassed for taking a critical stance toward the government. Umuseso former editor Ismail Mbonigaba, now in exile, was imprisoned for more than a month early this year, charged with “inciting division and discrimination” for reporting that former Prime Minister Faustin Twagarimungu would run against President Paul Kagame in elections. Three Umuseso journalists were also imprisoned for two weeks in 2002.