Skepticism greets arrests in Rwandan journalist’s murder

New York, June 29, 2010—Authorities in Rwanda announced on Monday the arrest of two individuals in the murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, who was shot late Thursday as he drove through the gate to his home in Kigali, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed skepticism about the arrests and called on authorities to disclose details of their investigation.

“The burden is on the Rwandan government to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation and to produce credible results,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. “We call on Rwandan authorities to heed the words of President Kagame who pledged during his monthly press briefing on Monday that the government would ‘get to the bottom’ of this matter.”

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Rwandan Internal Security Minister Moussa Fazil Harelimana said one of the suspects “has admitted guilt,” Agence France-Presse reported. “He told the police he committed the act to take revenge against this journalist, who killed his brother in the 1994 Tutsi genocide,” according to the same source.

Authorities have not disclosed the identities of the two suspects. In 2007, a traditional “gacaca” court had cleared Rugambage of any involvement in the genocide, according to local journalists.

Rugambage has been the target of official persecution over several years because of his critical coverage of the government, CPJ research shows. While working as a reporter for the now-defunct independent tabloid Umuco, Rugambage was imprisoned for 11 months in 2005-06 over a story alleging mismanagement and witness tampering in Rwanda’s traditional courts.

At the time of his murder, Rugambage was acting editor of Umuvugizi, a leading independent news outlet and one of the very few critical voices in Rwanda. In April, the government banned the weekly newspaper from publication during the run-up to the August presidential election. After the newspaper moved online this spring, domestic access to its Web site was blocked.

Shortly before his murder, CPJ research shows, Rugambage had written a story accusing Rwandan intelligence officers of involvement in the failed assassination of a former general in South Africa. Rugambage had reported to friends and colleagues that he was being followed and had received phone threats, local journalists told CPJ.

Rwandan authorities have moved quickly and assertively to deny any government involvement in Rugambage’s murder. Police issued a statement on Sunday condemning “fictional accounts” that suggested government agents could have been involved, the pro-government daily New Times reported. On Saturday, government spokeswoman Louise Mushikiwabo called suggestions of government involvement “outrageous,” New Times said