Without legal hearing, Rwanda shutters privately owned newspaper

July 16, 2007

His Excellency Laurent Nkusi
Minister of Information in the Rwandan Prime Minister’s Office
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States
1714 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20009

Via Facsimile: (202) 232-4544

Dear Minister Nkusi:

We are alarmed by the government’s sudden closure of the privately owned English-language newspaper The Weekly Post without a fair hearing, as is guaranteed by Rwandan law. We are also concerned that the paper was the second private newspaper summarily closed down by the government in the last three months, according to CPJ research.

The Weekly Post, founded by former journalists of the pro-government private daily New Times, has not published since receiving a June 6 letter revoking its authorization to publish, just three days after its first edition. The letter, a copy of which CPJ obtained, rescinded a prior authorization granted on May 15. The letter stated the ruling was based on “circumspect investigations,” but did not provide any explanation.

In a telephone interview with CPJ last month, you declared that the ruling was “perhaps” linked to “inaccuracies” in the paper’s application for a publishing license, but declined to comment further. “I have proof that the information they gave us was not authentic,” New Times later quoted you as saying.

None of the allegations have thus far been substantiated, according to the local press. The Rwandan Journalists Association (RJA) did not find any evidence supporting the allegations after reviewing the paper’s documentation, president Gaspard Safari told CPJ. The Weekly Post‘s managing director and chief editor Sulah Nuwamanya denied the accusations, adding that you allegedly turned down his repeated requests for a meeting. The ban was not linked to the content of the paper, he said.

You have been quoted in news reports as saying that the closure was not related to the paper’s ties to neighboring Uganda, where it is printed by the state daily New Vision. Yet in recent years Rwanda and Uganda have had strained relations ever since your armies clashed in nearby Democratic Republic of Congo.

A day after the ruling, the New Times quoted you as saying that “the law that governs media gives the Minister mandate to withdraw the license.” But Rwanda’s 2002 press law requires a court order to close down any media outlet, according to CPJ research and legal expert François Rwangampuhwe. “There is nothing in the press law supporting the minister’s action,” Safari added.

The state-run High Council of the Press (HCP), the body mandated under Article 74 of the press law with an advisory power on decisions to ban or suspend media outlets, was not informed of the ruling until several days after the fact, HCP Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama told CPJ.

In a June 28 letter, a copy of which CPJ obtained, the HCP requested an explanation of the closure and the holding of a fair hearing for the benefit of the paper, pursuant to Article 18 of Rwanda’s constitution.

The Weekly Post was the second newspaper summarily closed down in Rwanda this year. On April 5, the private French-language bimonthly Afrique Libération was indefinitely suspended on the grounds that it could not publish until the completion of a criminal defamation suit against director Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, according to a copy of an official letter from your office obtained by CPJ.

We are concerned that these summary closures show a disturbing pattern of intimidation and harassment of the media, as well as disrespect of due process in Rwanda.

In light of this, we urgently call on you to explain your decision to shut down the newspaper and explain why a court order was not sought in this case, as is required by law. We ask that you rescind the ban and allow The Weekly Post to resume publication immediately. We finally urge you to respect freedom of the press as guaranteed under Article 34 of the Constitution. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director