In Rwanda, newspaper director jailed for publishing critical letter

New York, January 16, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the jailing since Friday of the director of a private Kinyarwanda-language newspaper in the capital, Kigali, for publishing a letter critical of the government.

Agnès Nkusi-Uwimana of the bi-monthly Umurabyo was still being detained today at the Muhima police station on charges of discrimination and racism over an anonymous letter published in the January 1 edition, local journalists told CPJ. The letter, said to be written by a former member of the ruling RPF party, criticized the administration of President Paul Kagame, reporter Elias Nizeyimana told CPJ. The letter had been sent to several newspapers, but only Umurabyo published it in full, he said. Uwimana was pressed by police officials to reveal the identity of the letter’s author and to explain her decision to publish it, Nizeyimana said.

“We are deeply troubled by the arrest of Agnès Nkusi-Uwimana,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to drop all charges and release her immediately.”

Uwimana is expected to appear before the state prosecutor this week, according to local journalists. The government recently targeted Umurabyo in connection with an editorial.

Authorities cited Umurabyo in December for 16 alleged violations of the press law, including “incitement to genocide and ethnic discrimination,” after an editorial compared ethnic killings during Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated administration to those of the previous Hutu regime, according to local journalists. The article was also critical of Kagame’s decision to end diplomatic relations with France after a French judge accused him of involvement in the assassination of former Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Rwanda’s High Council of the Press (HCP), an official advisory watchdog, has recommended the suspension of Umurabyo for three months in the December case, HCP President Dominique Karekezi told CPJ. Information Minister Laurent Nkusi, who is empowered to implement the suspension, has not issued a decision yet, according to local journalists.