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Reporters Without Borders: EU 'Accomplice' to Repression in Rwanda

  • Michael Onyiego

Reporters Without Borders is calling for the European Union to cut off support for Rwanda's upcoming presidential elections, following a crackdown on media freedoms in the central African nation.

In response to the arrests of several members of Kigali's independent tabloid Umurabyo, the Paris-based organization Reports Without Borders is putting pressure on the international community to acknowledge ongoing media suppression in Rwanda.

On Monday, Rwandan Police detained Umurabyo contributor Saidati Mukakibibi on charges of defamation, inciting public disorder and ethnic division. The charges stem from an article published in the newspaper comparing President Paul Kagame and his government to Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Mukakibibi's arrest came just days after the tabloid's owner and editor, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi, was detained on similar charges. In 2007, Nkusi served a one-year prison sentence for sectarianism and defamation. The editor has been in detention since July 8th and has not yet been put on trial for the current charges.

International observes have accused President Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party of suppressing opposition groups and media in order to secure reelection in the August 9th presidential vote. The president has denied the charge.

According to the research director for Reporters Without Borders, Gilles Lordet, the international community has become an accomplice to the repression by providing aid to the Rwandan government.

"The situation and the conditions are not there for fair and honest elections in Rwanda," said Lordet. "We saw that through the pressure that exists on the journalists and the violence against journalists. We do not think that the conditions are fulfilled to have regular elections in Rwanda and that, in a way, the donors are just supporting this situation."

The Umurabyo arrests are the latest of several incidents that concern Reporters Without Borders.

In April, Rwanda's High Media Council suspended the activities of the two leading opposition publications, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, accusing them of publishing "information that endangers public order." Rwandan authorities received further condemnation when the deputy editor of Umuvugizi, Jean-Leonard Rugambage, was killed by gunmen last month outside his home.

The government has denied involvement in the murder. But the exiled editor of the newspaper said the murder was in retaliation for reports that Rugambage indicated Rwandan involvement in the attempted assassination of opposition leader General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who is in exile in South Africa.

Human-rights organizations such as London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch also have criticized the Rwandan government's treatment of opposition voices. According to Human Rights Watch, President Kagame's tactics have all but guaranteed his reelection in August.

The 2009 Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index ranks Rwanda 157th place, out of 175 countries worldwide; and Rwanda is ranked the fourth lowest county in Africa when it comes to press freedom. The organization also included President Kagame on its list of "Predators of Press Freedom."