16 June 2010

Independent website blocked prior to elections


Immediately after his newspaper was suspended for criticising President Paul Kagame, a defiant Rwandan editor launched an online news website that was just as critical of the government. In the lead up to presidential elections in August, the site was recently blocked, report the Media Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Editor John Bosco Gasasira's newspaper "Umuvugizi" was suspended by the Media High Council in April for six months. This ensures the paper will not appear on newsstands until after presidential elections. The website of the same name, established after Gasasira went into exile in Uganda, has been blocked in Rwanda since 3 June.

The ban came after the site carried a story describing the exorbitant travel expenses of the President, saying 60 per cent of the government's budget comes from foreign donations while the population is suffering from poverty and AIDS.

Gasasira has been assaulted and prosecuted for critical coverage, and left the country after being harassed and receiving threatening letters. His news site can be accessed in PDF format by readers outside Rwanda and those using TiGO mobiles in Rwanda.

"President Paul Kagame's government, which had already deployed a large arsenal of measures to gag the press, has set a disturbing precedent by blocking this website. The regime has shown it is able to innovate in order to pursue its long-standing obsession about controlling news and information," said RSF. President Kagame is on the RSF list of "Predators of Press Freedom."

The weekly "Umuseso" was also suspended in April. The Media High Council is seeking a court order to ban both publications indefinitely, arguing their articles are abusive toward officials and undermine national security, according to news reports.

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