Rwandan editor arrested after criticizing Kagame

New York, July 9, 2010Police in Rwanda arrested the editor of a private newspaper on Thursday in connection with a series of articles critical of the government, according to local journalists. 

Agnès Uwimana was taken into custody in the capital, Kigali, over allegations that her Kinyarwanda-language weekly Umurabyo had published stories “inciting the public to disobey,” “articles related to division and ethnicity,” and “rumors that can cause disturbance in the country,” Rwandan National Police spokesman Eric Kayiranga told CPJ today. Kayiranga said police acted in the public interest and would take Uwimana to court next week.

Umurabyo, which rose to prominence in April following the government’s closure of leading private papers Umuseso and Umugizi, had in recent editions raised questions about a number of sensitive topics, including last month’s murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the fallout between President Paul Kagame and two now-exiled military leaders, and reports alleging lavish government spending on luxury jets, according to local journalists. One story criticizing the government was headlined, “The Hammer Has Begun Killing the Fly,” a reference to April remarks in which Kagame declared that, “if necessary, we will kill the fly with a hammer.” Kagame was discussing generals who fled after being accused of involvement in grenade attacks earlier this year.

“Once again, Rwandan authorities invoke national security and the legacy of the 1994 genocide to silence one of the few dissenting voices in the shrinking independent Rwandan press,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.  “We call on authorities to release Agnès Uwimana immediately; she should not go to prison for expressing her views a month before presidential elections.”

Uwimana had been imprisoned in 2007-08, serving a one-year sentence on charges of ethnic divisionism and libel after she published an op-ed on the topic of ethnic violence in Rwanda, according to CPJ research. Last month, Rwanda’s Media High Council Board Chairman Arthur Asiimwe accused Uwimana of publishing “defamatory articles and falsehoods” in a story suggesting that all Rwandans were both victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, according to news reports.

Only a handful of independent newspapers, including Rushyashya, Umusingi, and Gasabo, have continued to publish in Rwanda under increasing self-censorship, according to local journalists.