Rwandan officials threaten to force press to reveal sources

New York, September 11, 2007— Top officials accused Rwanda’s independent press on Sunday of undermining the government and threatened to force journalists to reveal their sources, according to local journalists.

During a four-hour state television broadcast in the capital, Kigali, featuring a panel of government ministers and representatives from the security forces, Interior Minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana said the government would hold reporters responsible for using leaked documents, according to the state Rwandan News Agency. “If a journalist writes a story quoting a letter smuggled to him, he is equally liable to punishment,” the pro-government daily New Times quoted Harerimana as saying. “He has to tell us who gave him the letter before his case is dropped.”  

According to Rwanda’s 2002 press law, the right to access or publish government documents “may be limited” when it comes to certain topics, including national security, but the scope is subject to appeal. The provision was intended to prevent the disclosure of sensitive strategic military information and government deliberations, according to Rwandan legal expert Francois Rwangampuhwe.

“We condemn this kind of blatant attempt to bully the press,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The government needs to recognize that the press cannot play its watchdog role without the use of confidential sources and documents.”

Local journalists say the comment was related to a July story in leading independent weekly Umuseso cited documents related to a pay scandal involving Rwandan peacekeeping soldiers returning from Darfur, Umuseso Deputy Managing Editor Furaha Mugasha told CPJ.

Finance Minister James Musoni, the target of several critical articles by independent newspapers Umuseso, Umuco and Umuvugizi, accused the papers of collusion with “negative forces,” code for Congo-based Hutu rebels and exiled critics of Rwanda’s Tutsi-dominated government, according to local journalists.

“The statements made on Sunday amount to intimidation, and set the stage for the losses of our sources of information—and our eventual arrests,” said Umuvugizi director Jean-Bosco Gasasira. Gasasira, still recovering from multiple surgeries in the aftermath of a brutal attack in February in connection with his work, was questioned for three hours on Friday in connection to stories critical of Musoni and the police.