The editor of Rwanda’s Umuvugizi independent newspaper said the suspension of his paper is politically motivated.
Rwanda’s Media High Council earlier this week suspended Umuvugizi and Umuseso for six months on the grounds the two weeklies violated Rwanda’s media laws and incited public order.
Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira said the six-month suspension is intended to silence the two papers from covering Rwanda’s presidential elections scheduled for August this year.
“As you know we are entering into election period; the election period is going to be in August, but campaign starts in May. The Media High Council suspended our newspapers before getting orders from the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, just hours before that, the president (Paul Kagame) said in parliament that he’s tired of the criticizing newspapers. He’s going to close it in good faith or by force,” he said.
The Chairman of the Rwanda Media High Council, Arthur Asiimwe, in announcing the suspension accused Umuvugizi and Umuseso of mixing news and opinions in their reporting.
Asiimwe reportedly said most of the articles written by the two newspapers since January this year were full of fabrications and were provocative.
Editor Gasasira described Asiimwe’s comments as false political allegations and propaganda.
He said the Media High Council is a tool of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party.
“In the constitution, the Media High Council is supposed to be independent. But it’s not independent of the ruling party; it’s not independent of the government; they are just a political tool,” Gasasira said.
Gasasira rejected assertions by Media High Council Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama that Umuvugizi and Umuseso failed to respond to warnings from the council about their reporting.
“When a newspaper in Rwanda, according to the new media law, writes anything inciting or anything bad, the Media High Council summons them and forces them to make correction of that. When they refused, they are at least suspended for two months. Then if they repeat that, you suspend them for six months. Neither Umuseso nor Umuvugizi have never been summoned by the Media High Council officially nor suspended for two months which shows that this was politically motivated. They just want to eliminate us before the election campaign,” Gasasira said.
Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said the Media High Council acted within Rwandan laws when it suspended the two papers.
“As far as I know from the legal point of view, the law on the media empowers the Media High Council to do that. The law provides both disciplinary and criminal proceedings. The penal code does indeed punish. Some of the utterances, some of the publications that the two papers were engaged in, I don’t think any criminal proceedings had been invoked at all. I think what has happened is that the Media High Council took disciplinary actions against the two papers,” Karugarama said.
Gasasira said President Paul Kagame had warned journalists critical of his government to leave Rwanda or face their papers being shut down.
But he said he’s not a coward and would not be driven into exile.
“Right now when I’m talking to you, I’m a lamed person. My left hand side has a stroke when they tried to assassinate me in 2007. I’m living on medication; I’m a living person who has a lot of health problems because of my line of duty. So I’ve become a sacrifice of my work. So I don’t believe in escaping the country; I don’t believe being a coward. I will remain here,” Gasasira said.
Gasasira described as untrue allegations by Media High Council Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama that media criticism of the Kagame government could lead to decline in foreign investment in Rwanda.
He said most foreign embassies in Rwanda subscribe to Umuvugizi and Umuseso.
“Umuvugizi and Umuseso are the best selling newspapers in the country. They are the only independent newspapers in the country. All embassies subscribe, all investors subscribe. So let them say the true that they are tired of our criticizing, of our independent view and analysis,” Gasasira said.
Umuvugizi and Umuseso are known for their critical coverage of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party.
Both Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned the suspensions.