PEN Appeal: Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi
February 14, 2011
President Paul Kagame
Office of the President
Fax: +250 572 431
National Public Prosecution Authority
Fax: +250 589 501
On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the sentences handed down to editor Agnes Uwimana and reporter Saidati Mukakibibi.
According to our information, Agnes Uwimana, editor of Umurabyo newspaper, was sentenced on February 4, 2011, to 17 years in prison on charges of “threatening state security,” “genocide ideology,” “divisionism,” and “defamation.” Saidati Mukakibibi, reporter and deputy editor of Umurabyo, received a seven-year sentence on the charge of “threatening state security.” The prosecution stemmed from a series of articles they had written ahead of the August 2010 presidential elections in which they criticized government policies and officials, including President Paul Kagame, and challenged the official version of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. One of the articles that the judge referred to stated that some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers, which the prosecutors said was “meant to stir [up] hatred and fury against the government.” Authorities have reportedly denied that the arrests of Uwimana and Mukakibibi occurred in connection with the elections of August 2010. In January 2011, prosecutors requested a 33-year sentence for Uwimana and 12 years for Mukakibibi.
Uwimana, who was arrested on July 8, 2010, and Mukakibibi, who was arrested the following week on July 13, 2010, spent nearly seven months in detention before their trial. They were taken to Kigali Prison to begin serving their terms immediately following their sentencing. Uwimana and Mukakibibi have expressed an intention to appeal their verdicts before the Supreme Court.
This is not the first time that authorities have targeted Uwimana for exercising her legitimate right to freedom of expression. From 2007 to 2008 she served a one-year prison sentence on charges of “ethnic divisionism” and libel after she published an opinion piece on ethnic violence in Rwanda.
PEN American Center is extremely concerned that Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi have been imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Rwanda is a signatory. We therefore call on the leadership of Rwanda to release Uwimana and Mukakibibi immediately and to fulfill its 2010 promise to review the country’s vaguely worded laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism.” We also urge the authorities to pursue any press-related case against any journalist in Rwanda in civil rather than the criminal court.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs
CC: H.E Ambassador James Kimonyo
Head of Mission
Embassy of Rwanda to the United States
1714 New Hampshire Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 232-4544
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