Rwanda news Web site blocked after paper suspended

New York, June 11, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Rwandan authorities today to provide information as to why the Web site of newspaper Umuvugizi is inaccessible in the run-up to August presidential elections. The state-run Rwanda News Agency reported on June 3 that the Web site of Umuvugizi, a leading private paper known for its critical coverage of the government, could not be opened on the networks of the country’s only Internet service providers.

Editor John Bosco Gasasira, who launched Umuvugizi online in May after Rwanda’s Media High Council suspended the newspaper of the same name in April for six months, told CPJ he believes the government is involved in blocking his Web site because of a May 22 story detailing allegedly lavish travel expenses of President Paul Kagame.

A week earlier, Media High Council Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama was quoted by the BBC Kinyarwanda service as saying that the paper could be “blocked” if it attempted to publish online, according to news reports. Speaking to CPJ this week, Mulama declined to have any knowledge of the problem. “I have no idea,” he said, and referred further inquiries to the Internet service providers.

The government and all of the country’s three Internet service providers—MTN Rwanda, a local subsidiary of the South Africa-based MTN Group, Tigo, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular, and RwandaTel, a local subsidiary of the Libyan government-controlled LAP Green Networks—have told CPJ that they were not responsible for blocking the site.

“We call on the authorities to do all in their power to ensure that Umuvugizi’s Web site is restored immediately,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “It is essential for Rwanda’s democracy that all voices are able to be heard.”

The media council’s six-month suspension of Umuvugizi, along with the other leading newspaper, Umuseso, ensured the papers would not appear in local newsstands up to and beyond August presidential elections. The council is currently seeking a court order to ban the publications indefinitely on the grounds that their articles are abusive toward officials, alarm the public, and undermine national security, according to news reports. Gasasira, who has been assaulted and prosecuted for critical coverage is one of several Rwandan journalists associated with the tabloids who fled into exile this year, according to CPJ research.