Nairobi, November 15, 2012--An appellate court in Rwanda should overturn the prison sentence handed to the editor of a private weekly on Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also urges authorities to release Stanley Gatera, editor of the Kinyarwandan-language paper Umusingi, pending his planned appeal.
The Gasabo Intermediate Court in the capital, Kigali, sentenced Gatera, 22, to a one-year jail term and fines of 30,000 Rwandan francs (US$50) for inciting divisionism and gender discrimination in an opinion column he published in Umusingi in June, according to local journalists and news reports. The state prosecutor said in court that the article broke the country's laws about referring to ethnic identities, local journalists told CPJ. The Rwandan penal code includes crimes that carry prison terms for individuals who speak too provocatively about ethnicity, news reports said.
The article, called "Shangazi" (Dear Aunt), suggested that men may regret marrying a Tutsi woman solely for her beauty, according to CPJ's review of a translated copy of the article. Police released a statement saying they arrested Gatera on August 1 after receiving complaints from women's groups.
Gatera, who defended himself in court, said that the paper had run an apology from him in a subsequent issue, local journalists told CPJ. But police in the statement called it a "denial of wrongdoing."
The journalist is being held at Kimironko Prison in Kigali and plans to appeal the sentence, local journalists said.
"Readers may have been offended by this column, but that does not mean Stanley Gatera should be put in prison," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "We urge the courts to release him immediately pending appeal, and to overturn the disproportionate penalties against him."
Umusingi has been targeted in the past. In February 2011, the newspaper's website was temporarily blocked in Rwanda after it published an interview with a dissident Rwandan general in South Africa. The paper's founder and former managing director, Nelson Gatsimbazi, fled the country in August 2011 after being told of his impending arrest on charges of divisionism based on a complaint filed by another journalist in 2008, local journalists told CPJ. In December 2010, Gatsimbazi was accused by the presidential security adviser of working with "enemies of the state," according to news reports.
- For more data and analysis on Rwanda, visit CPJ's Rwanda page here.