Rwandan exiled journalist comes out of hiding

By Tom Rhodes/East Africa Consultant on February 16, 2012 3:08 PM ET

Gasasira in exile. (Gasasira)

I must have received at least a dozen communications from worried friends and colleagues, asking the whereabouts of the chief editor of the highly critical Rwandan website, Umuvugizi. By mid-January, no one had heard from John Bosco Gasasira, nothing new had been published on Umuvugizi since January 11, and his cell phones were switched off. Last week, concerned colleagues wrote a public letter expressing concern over their missing colleague.

"I could not keep my phones on. I knew Rwandan agents were hunting me," Gasasira told me. He had decided to go into hiding. Gasasira alleges that Rwandan agents in Sweden have been monitoring him since September 2010 and even attempted to poison him that month. "Ever since September 2010 I was protected by Swedish authorities -- they have really helped me."

His claim would sound preposterous except for the fact that European governments have accused the Rwandan government of using agents to target opponents abroad. In 2011, London's Metropolitan Police warned three Rwandan nationals living in Britain that the Rwandan government posed an imminent threat to their lives, the BBC reported. The Rwandan High Commissioner in Britain rejected the police claims.

But last week, Swedish officials evicted the second-highest ranking Rwandan embassy official, Evode Mudaheranwa, for "refugee espionage," the Associated Press reported. "Evode Mudaheranwa was evicted the same day I came out of hiding," Gasasira told me.

Neither government has commented on the eviction, according to international reports. One thing is certain though -- Gasasira has reason to be wary of Rwandan authorities. After three men beat him severely with iron bars in 2007; his newspaper was suspended in Rwanda in April 2010; and his deputy editor assassinated in unclear circumstances in July that year, it is no wonder Gasasira fled the country and lives in exile in Sweden. (In December, a Rwandan journalist was shot dead by unknown assailants in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda. Rwandan mourners at his funeral reported being scared of Rwandan agents in Kampala).

Judging by the plethora of scathing articles against the Rwandan government on his website, Gasasira's unpopularity with Rwandan authorities would also not be surprising. Stories published in 2010 and 2011 claim President Kagame used public funds to purchase a private jet and a house in Britain, and set up a bank account in Mauritius to launder money.

"Paul Kagame wants to destroy the Rwandan media and he does this by forcing journalists into exile. You find many Rwandan journalists go into exile but cannot afford to continue the profession," Gasasira said. Umuvugizi has managed to continue and, according to Gasasira, has more impact as a website than when it was published as a weekly newspaper back home in the capital, Kigali. "Our statistics show this. In Kigali we were read by 3,000 people, now we are read by 7,000 people online per day,"  he said. Although the site is periodically blocked in Rwanda, local journalists told me, many are able to access Umuvugizi articles through other websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

All this leads Gasasira to stay cautious. "All along I've been limiting my movements in Sweden," he told me, "I don't go to public places like normal people, but that's life -- if I don't do this who knows what might happen."


I am glad that Gasasira is safe. But I want to know why he chooses to write/publish only negatives about Rwandan government as if nothing good ever happens in Randa. I think that's why many people don't read his articles as he expects. Many Rwandan have been following Rwandan achievements including poverty eradication action plan, computer technology, education and tourism. All we can't avoid listening from world economic report is that Rwanda economy is stable compared to other African Countries despite of its cold-blooded genocide in 1994. Gasasira however has chosen to only and only continue accusing Rwandan officials of iron hand and intolerance of their news papers. My suggestion; if Gasasira and others would wish to be heard by many Rwandans, they must show balance between all that happen in Rwanda. Because their daily negative accusations against Kagame do not at all blind anybody from recognizing President Kagame as a hero, freedom fighter, and as well as a modern man in Africa who has distinguishably established himself as one of the western leaders by aiming at developing his country in all possible necessary procedures. Many in Rwanda and outside Rwanda view and understand Mr. Kagame as an increadable African leader who hsa not inherited much from African dictatorial spirit
Threfore, Gasasira should be not be biased in his profession.

Dear John,

Thank you for your comment. Gasasira is a private penfighter and he is not on Government payroll. He has choosen not to praise Kagame but to expose his lies and mistake being done under the tyrant’s regime. My advice to you is : If you like propaganda news you might visit Rwanda Newtimes , etc

For your information again; Umuvugizi is read by many Rwandans than you can imagine. Remember if more than 5000 people read his articles, the news is spread to the whole world.

Keep your bread by singing lies but accept and get ready for these who speak up the mind as well.

Thanks heaven he's alive.

On the contrary of what John thinks, many people read Gasasira's blog and therefore, were really worried. I agree with John though that Gasasira doesn't praise Kagame's regime because, if it did its job correctly, that wouldn't be news. besides, eventhough that regime does a little of its official mission, there are much many newspapers to tell the so called 'success story'. People need to be informed on what is actually going on, on what went wrong in order to find ways for improving the situation

Dear Tom;
The increasing readability of Gasassira's website reminds me of the fate of another paper which was forced out of circulation by a similarly tyrannical regime.It's Addis Neger of Ethiopia whose editors escaped in the nick of time before thrown to jail on account of a trumped up charge of terrorism.Meles Zenawi's regime only succeeded to make the website more popular and most sought after which was launched after the editors fled.

John every one like you will say this, but you have also to understand Gasasira and his associate, I think you will know why Gasasira and many other criticizes than empathize gov’t as you wish through this example :
How many times have you said thanks to your house boy/girl after her/his good job? I think u don’t as u pay them, isn’t it? So far how many house boys/girls have you fired because of a small mistakes? Without thinking even the big work done and a small salary they get from you ,I guess your answer will be many, So Gasasira and many other Banyarwanda doesn’t feel sorry for these people or gvt because they do some bad things as ithink u agree with me(ex:"he chooses to write/publish only negatives about Rwandan government as if nothing good ever happens in Randa")when earned a lot of money from our taxes .
Bro if was in your shoes I would advise these pple to stop all these horrific things(killings, mismanagement, embezzlement losetalks....,) and shame Gasasira and his coworker for losing anything else to inscribe against your beloved system

Its good news Gasasira has resurfaced, not because I feard that Kigali could have been behind his supposed disappearance, but because that would have been the automatic conclusion by many.

The way things are are such that if a Rwandan journalist is assaulted or even killed from anywhere, many will immediately blame the govt without any evidence, just out of the blue.

It was of course unfortunate that Gasasira's deputy was killed outside his home, but even when the suspects were arrested and later convicted, everyone keeps blaming the govt. It must be noted that Rugambage was the first journalist killed in Rwanda following the 1994 Genocide, but the impression that has been created is that govt is busy killing journalists.

Its unfortunate that the opinions of certain individuals who call themselves journalists but never come close to practicing real journalism (that's not based on rumours, bias, with a confrontational tone) are the ones that have largely shaped public opinion about Rwanda's media landscape.

Truth be told, Rwanda is not paradise with regard to media freedom, but it does much better than many countries, both in the legal context and practice. It might sound odd that its true that instead the media are the ones who have failed to appreciate the sensitivities/realities of the post-Genocide
Rwandan society, with many choosing to blindly promote the same views as those from rights groups who have a bone to pick with Rwanda, specially because of political reasons (note that Kigali has had a spate of diplomatic difficulties with some western govts largely due to the latter's role in the country's troubled past, including the 1994 Genocide).

Otherwise how else can u explain how a journalist only commits to portray a govt in a negative light, without ever appreciating any good thing (and they' recountless) it has done?

How do you justify a case where a journalist deliberately violates the law b'se they don't like the legislation?

Its also known that most of the Rwandan journalists in exile have training/capacity issues, their education is too modest, with the majority having dropped out of high school. I know education is not enough to make a good journalist, but its a handicap that has had its toll on how Rwandan journalists operate.

Of course, there's the other unfortunate factor of some journalists betraying their professional conscious so they can win visas to 'greener pastures'.

Its important that all these factors are clearly understood for one to understand the Rwandan media situation.

I hope one day truth will finally prevail.

"How else can u explain how a journalist only commits to portray a govt in a negative light, without ever appreciating any good thing (and they' recountless) it has done?" (Munyaneza)

Praise singers are not journalists, sir, we call them "government propagandists".

True journalists are "Watchdogs" for public interests. Could you figure for yourself what this may mean?

As for Rwanda "much better than many countries, both in the legal context and practice", come out with examples.
-Number of journalists killed both home and in exile;
-Number of journalists in exile;
-Number of newspapers banned;
-Number of trials against female journalists;
-Number of rejected applications for radio stations;
Number of...
And last, who told you that being in exile is an advantage for journalists?

Whatever people say, what is the most important to me (I think even to other lovers of umuvugizi) is that Honorable Gasasira is till alive. That is what metters most.
Gasasira I will raise your flag high, 7000 people who reads your website everyday this is a huge number to bring the change in our country.

Dear James Munyaneza. Where do you get the moral authority to blame Rwandan media of failing the prosperity of this sector? You wasted many years in The NewTimes as a gov't agent and spin doctor before being rewarded in kind by the same govt with a fat job outside the newsroom, which you gladly accepted at the time when yo fellow journalists were being cracked for publishing an 'ugly' photo of Kagame. The editors were being harassed for their so called 'ulterior' motives. If you did not do anything this time apart from abandoning journalism, then i would request u keep out of debates of people with integrity or keep up your low class blogging for a handful who care to read your irrelevant opinions.

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