Newspaper seized, editor questioned by police

New York, September 20, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the Rwandan authorities for seizing copies of the newspaper Umuco and harassing its editor who has criticized the government. CPJ also renewed its call for the release of Umuco journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, who has been in jail without charge since September 7.

On Sunday, police detained editor Bonaventure Bizumuremyi at the border with Uganda, where Umuco is printed, and took him for questioning, according to local sources. He was released the same evening and he managed to give out some copies of the newspaper for distribution. However, the next morning police launched an operation in the capital Kigali to recover those copies. Local media sources said Bizumuremyi has been receiving threats from anonymous phone callers since his release on Sunday. They said he has been summoned to return to police headquarters on Wednesday and fears possible arrest.

Police spokesman Théo Badege told Reuters that police confiscated the latest edition of Umuco because it contained “harmful stories based on rumors and sensationalism.”

The seized edition carries a series of articles highly critical of the government, according to CPJ sources. One piece alleges that the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front is raising money from civil servants and public institutions in violation of the Constitution. Another article criticizes the imprisonment of journalist Rugambage and that of Belgian priest Guy Theunis, who was arrested at Kigali airport on September 5 and accused of having used his Dialogue publication to incite genocide in 1994. Paris-based press freedom group Reporters without Borders (RSF), for whom Theunis was Rwanda correspondent in 1992 and 1993, called the charge “absurd” and suggested that “some political score is being settled.”

Authorities have offered no explanation for the jailing of Rugambage, which local journalists believe is linked to his criticism of a traditional justice (“gacaca”) court in the central town of Gitarama. For more information on his case see our September 15 alert:

“Rwandan President Paul Kagame presents himself as a modern leader but this kind of censorship is more common in a police state,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Rwandan government to allow Umuco to circulate freely and to release its reporter Rugambage, who is being held without due process or even an official explanation.”

In August, Bizumuremyi was twice held for police questioning following an article in Umuco on police corruption, and a piece that called for the release of detained opposition leader and former president Pasteur Bizimungu.