Rugambage, a reporter for the twice-monthly newspaper Umuco, was jailed in the central town of Gitarama and accused of participating in the 1994 genocide, although several local sources told CPJ they believe he was jailed for his journalistic work. His arrest came soon after he wrote an article for the August 25 edition of Umuco that accused officials of the semi-traditional “gacaca” courts in the Gitarama region of corruption, mismanagement, and manipulating witnesses.
Gacaca courts, in which suspects are judged by their peers with no recourse to a defense lawyer, were set up to try tens of thousands of genocide suspects who have been languishing in overcrowded jails since 1994. The genocide left some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead in less than three months. Human rights activists and independent observers have raised concern that the courts have given rise to false accusations in some cases.
CPJ sources said accusations that Rugambage participated in the genocide were based on contradictory and vague testimony by a small number of witnesses. They said the testimony was not given until after Rugambage’s articles appeared. One witness testified to a gacaca court in Rugambage’s home village that he took part in a murder; other witnesses said he may have participated in looting and distributing arms, the sources said. Rugambage was not present at these hearings. A prisoner has written a letter stating that Rugambage was not present during the murder for which he was accused.
In November, Rugambage was found in contempt of a gacaca court and sentenced to a year in prison after he protested that the presiding judge was biased. Rugambage said the judge refused to consider defense evidence or testimony, according to CPJ sources. The underlying charges were still pending.
Umuco, which is based in Kigali and publishes mainly in Kinyarwanda, has been targeted for its criticism of the authorities. In August, its editor Bonaventure Bizumuremyi was twice held by police for questioning following an article on police corruption, and a story that called for the release of jailed opposition leader and former president Pasteur Bizimungu. In mid-September, police seized copies of Umuco and summoned Bizumuremyi several times for questioning.