30 June 2010

Editor slain; opposition silenced in run-up to elections

President Paul Kagame's government is cracking down on all criticism prior to elections in August.
President Paul Kagame's government is cracking down on all criticism prior to elections in August.
via Media Institute
In a climate of political repression weeks before Rwandan presidential elections, a leading independent editor was shot dead on 24 June, report Journaliste en Danger (JED), the Media Institute (MI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members. Authorities had targeted him for months and his newspaper, one of the few critical voices in the country, had recently been banned. His assassination is a brutal episode in a broader crackdown as the state attempts to suppress all dissent prior to the elections in August.

Jean Léonard Rugambage, deputy editor of "Umuvugizi", a newspaper published in the capital, Kigali, had told colleagues he was being followed and had received threats. He was the last person still working for "Umuvugizi" in Rwanda and had represented the newspaper in hearings in several court cases it is facing over its critical coverage of the government. He was also the Rwanda correspondent for JED.

An assailant fired several shots at close range as Rugambage drove up to his home. Although two suspects were arrested on 28 June, CPJ "expressed skepticism about the arrests and called on authorities to disclose details of their investigation."

Jean-Bosco Gasasira, the exiled editor of "Umuvugizi", says he believes the killing was a reprisal for a story alleging the Rwandan government was behind the recent shooting of a former Rwandan army commander in South Africa - published online the day of the murder. While working for a different newspaper, "Umuco", Rugambage was imprisoned for 11 months in 2005-06 over a story alleging mismanagement and witness tampering in Rwanda's traditional courts. He is the first journalist to be murdered since 1998, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Authorities have already tried to close "Umuvugizi", one of only two independent newspapers in Rwanda. "Umuvugizi" and "Umuseso" were suspended in April for six months and both papers' chief editors fled the country after receiving threats. After the newspaper moved online this spring, domestic access to its website was blocked, said CPJ.

"The loss of life, under whatever circumstances, is deplorable and particularly troubling during what should be a democratic election. The continued intimidation of dissenting voices in Rwanda shows the extent of the current regime's intolerance and prevents political commentary, directly limiting the ability of opposition parties to participate," said ARTICLE 19.

Critical journalists are not the only ones being attacked as the government ensures that all opposition is excluded from the political process, says Human Rights Watch. The leader of the opposition party PS-Imberakuriwas was taken in for questioning on 24 June. The police raided his house and office and confiscated documents. Several other members of the same party were rounded up and detained. Members of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party were also detained the same day. Members of both parties said they were beaten by police.

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