In Rwanda, journalists given 17 and 7 years in prison

New York, February 4, 2011–Harsh prison sentences given to two journalists today under Rwanda’s vague and sweeping laws against “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” will have a chilling effect on the Rwandan press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A panel of three High Court judges in the capital, Kigali, sentenced Agnès Uwimana, former editor of the now-defunct private weekly Umurabyo, to 17 years in prison and gave a seven-year prison term to former Deputy Editor Saidati Mukakibibi. The charges were related to a series of 2010 articles that criticized government officials and challenged the official interpretation of the 1994 genocide, according to local journalists. Uwimana and Mukakibibi were arrested in July and charged with insulting the head of state, promoting discrimination, sectarianism, and genocide denial.

Defense lawyers told CPJ they planned to appeal the verdict to the Rwandan Supreme Court. Uwimana and Mukakibibi are being held in Kigali’s central prison.

“We condemn the continued use by Rwandan authorities of vaguely worded laws against genocide denial and divisionism to intimidate the press from critically covering the aftermath of the 1994 genocide,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the Supreme Court to reverse the convictions against Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi.

CPJ previously spoke out against public prosecutor’s demands for 33-year prison term for Uwimana and a 12-year term for Mukakibibi.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The headline of this alert has been corrected to reflect the correct prison sentences.