Rwandan adviser must retract accusation against editor

New York, December 16, 2010A senior Rwandan presidential adviser should immediately retract a grave and unsubstantiated public accusation against a journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Brig. Gen. Richard Rutatina, a presidential security adviser, publicly accused Nelson Gatsimbazi, managing editor of the Kinyarwanda bimonthly Umusingi, of working with “enemies of the state.” He made the accusation Tuesday during a forum on human rights in Rwanda, according to local news reports. In comments made during the event, which was broadcast over state radio and television, the official said Gatsimbazi received funds from “outside” to spread “lies and rumors.”

Rutatina made the accusations in response to a question from Gatsimbazi about prolonged pretrial detentions, according to local journalists who were present. Gatsimbazi cited the case of Lt. Col Rugigana Ngabo, a brother of exiled former military leader Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. “We know all those paying you to do what you do, including names, places,” Rutatina told Gatsimbazi in response.

The adviser’s comments follow several public remarks made earlier this year by President Paul Kagame that seemed designed to intimidate critical journalists, CPJ research shows. In March, the president linked unnamed journalists to exiled military leaders whom he accused of plotting a bomb attack in Kigali. The next month, in an address to parliament, Kagame warned that unnamed newspapers “that trade on rumors” would face undisclosed consequences.

The government shut the nation’s two leading independent weeklies in April, silenced several other news outlets in the weeks before the August presidential vote, and harassed critical editors in court, CPJ research shows. Several journalists went into exile, and another, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered outside his Kigali home.

“It is unacceptable in a democracy for a senior military officer to make unsubstantiated accusations against a journalist who asked a question in a public forum,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “The charge of working with ‘enemies of the state’ is alarming in the Rwandan context. Brigadier General Rutatina must retract all allegations immediately.”

Umusingi is among a small handful of independent news outlets still operating in Rwanda.