Editor’s conviction upheld, sentence toughened

New York, March 22, 2005—A Rwandan appeals court today stiffened the sentence against a newspaper editor as it upheld his conviction on charges that he defamed the deputy speaker of parliament in a 2004 article. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the ruling, saying it reflected the ongoing harassment of editors and reporters for Umuseso, Rwanda’s only independent newspaper.

Ruling on a prosecution appeal in the capital, Kigali, the court imposed a one-year suspended jail sentence against Umuseso Editor Charles Kabonero. The court also fined him 59,500 Rwandan francs (roughly US $100) and ordered the editor to pay damages of one million Rwandan francs (roughly US $1,800) to Deputy Speaker Denis Polisi.

The trial court had imposed only a small fine, but the appeals court found the sentence too lenient, local sources told CPJ. The appeals court did uphold Kabonero’s acquittal on the more serious charge of ethnic “divisionism.”

The charges stemmed from an August 2004 article in the Kinyarwanda-language weekly that accused Polisi of abuse of power. The article also reported speculation about Polisi’s political aspirations, and divisions in the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front.

“By continuing this unjustified prosecution of Charles Kabonero, the government is targeting the country’s only independent newspaper for harassment and trying to silence one of the few critical voices in Rwanda,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Journalists in Rwanda should be able to report freely on matters of public concern without fear of criminal prosecution.”

Umuseso staff members say they were harassed and threatened after the article appeared. Kabonero, who also directs Umuseso‘s parent company, the Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG), was forced into hiding by the threats for about 10 days.

Rwandan authorities have frequently targeted Umuseso in the past, and several former editors and journalists from the paper have fled the country following threats from Rwandan security forces.

To read more about this case, see CPJ’s November 23, 2004, alert: