In February 2011, a court in Kigali sentenced Uwimana, founder and chief editor of the independent vernacular weekly Umurabyo, to 17 years in prison on charges of incitement to violence, promoting ethnic division, genocide denial, and insulting the head of state in connection with several opinion pieces published in mid-2010, according to news reports. The paper’s deputy editor, Saidati Mukakibibi, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to seven years. The publication closed after their arrests.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court reduced Uwimana’s sentence to four years and Mukakibibi’s term to three years, according to news reports. The court overturned the convictions of genocide and ethnic division, but upheld Uwimana’s conviction of defaming President Paul Kagame and inciting violence, according to local journalists. The court upheld Mukakibibi’s conviction on inciting violence. Mukakibibi was released in June 2013.
Uwimana, a single mother and the breadwinner for her family, submitted a letter requesting a presidential pardon in April 2012. Although Kagame had said publicly that the original sentences were harsh, the request was rejected for unstated reasons, defense lawyers told CPJ.
Although the publication was at times considered sensational, local journalists told CPJ that Umurabyo raised important questions about a number of sensitive topics, including the July 2010 murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the fallout between Kagame and two now-exiled military leaders, growing divisions within the Rwandan army, and the need for justice for ethnic Hutus killed in the 1994 genocide.
Uwimana was held at Central Prison in the capital, Kigali, in late 2013.