Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lack of Media Freedom

Yesterday, 23 February 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that three journalists from the Kinyarwanda-language weekly Umuseso were sentenced to prison with substantial fines for reporting on the conduct of two senior government officials. The report is here.

Media freedom is at the heart of any democracy. Rwanda lacks this freedom. Reporters without Borders calls President Kagame a predator to press freedom.

Indeed, as the ruling RPF has consolidated its political power, it has ruthlessly cracked down on journalists and media outlets. The government suspended he BBC Kinyarwanda service for preaching genocide ideology in March 2009. The service was re-instated after an international outcry. Radio France International was suspended in June 2006 on similar allegations.

Kigali maintains a tight grip on media activity, as evidenced in these recent sentences of Umuseso staff, including its editor-in- chief. The RPF accuses journalists who speak out against its policies of ethnic divisionism or of preaching genocide ideology under the 2001 “divisionism” law. Only those media outlets that express views that are in line with the government are able to speak out; as a result, many self-censor.

Instances of courageous journalism are followed by crackdowns on the media. Media independence and freedom of expression are all but non-existent The RPF continues to harass and detain without charge journalists who criticise government policies. Several journalists have fled the country; others have been beaten up; fined, or put in prison.

This hardly bodes well for campaigning during this election season. It also makes it difficult for ordinary Rwandans to vote for anyone besides the RPF....

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