(Jeanne Umwana)
(Jeanne Umwana)

Editor of censored Rwandan paper is assassinated

New York, June 25, 2010—A top editor of an independent Rwandan newspaper that was recently banned by the government was assassinated in front of his home late Thursday, according to local journalists and news reports. An assailant shot Jean-Léonard Rugambage, left, acting editor of Umuvugizi  as he drove through the gate of his home in the capital, Kigali, around 10 p.m., Rwanda National police spokesperson Eric Kayiranga told CPJ.

“At the moment, we are yet to establish who is involved in the killing and police are currently conducting investigations and we will provide information as it comes,” he said.

Rwanda’s Media High Council suspended Umuvugizi’s right to publish in April. Soon after Umuvugizi moved online, its Web site became inaccessible to domestic visitors. Censorship of the publication, one of the few critical voices in the country, has come in the run-up to the August presidential election.

Rugambage had reported to friends and colleagues that he was being followed and had received phone threats, local journalists told CPJ. Jean-Bosco Gasasira, the exiled editor of Umuvugizi, told the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that he believed the killing was reprisal for a recent story alleging government involvement in the shooting of a former Rwandan army commander in South Africa.

“The brutal murder of Jean-Léonard Rugambage deals a savage blow to Rwanda’s already beleaguered independent media,” said Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “It comes amid a government crackdown on critical reporting ahead of the August presidential election, and raises serious questions about the safety of independent journalists in the country. The authorities must ensure that all those behind this murder, including the masterminds, are brought to justice swiftly.”

As the last Umuvugizi journalist remaining in Rwanda, Rugambage represented the newspaper in hearings in several court cases the newspaper is facing over its critical coverage of government affairs, according to local journalists.

Before joining Umuvugizi, Rugambage was a reporter for the now-defunct independent tabloid Umuco. He experienced 11 months of imprisonment after producing a story alleging mismanagement and witness tampering in Rwanda’s traditional courts for suspects of the 1994 genocide. Rugambage, 34, is survived by a wife and a two-year-old daughter, according to local journalists.