Long Prison Sentences for Two Journalists
PEN International protests the February 4, 2011 conviction and imprisonment of Umurabyo editor Agnes Uwimana and reporter Saidati Mukakibibi, for articles they published criticizing President Paul Kagame ahead of the 2010 elections. The journalists were sentenced to 17 and seven years, respectively, on charges of “threatening state security,” “genocide ideology,” “divisionism,” and “defamation.” PEN condemns such use of vaguely worded legislation on “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” to silence legitimate criticism of the government. It calls on the Rwandan authorities to release Uwimana and Mukakibibi and to fulfill its promises to review the relevant laws.
On February 4, 2011, Uwimana was sentenced to 17 years in prison for “threatening state security,” “genocide ideology,” “divisionism,” and “defamation,” while Mukakibibi received a seven-year jail term for “threatening state security.” Both journalists, who had been detained since July 2010, were taken to Kigali’s central prison following sentencing. They intended to appeal the verdict before the Supreme Court.
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.” In January 2011, prosecutors requested a 33-year sentence for Uwimana and a 12-year sentence for Mukakibibi.
According to Amnesty International, Uwimana acknowledged that some of her articles may have lacked professionalism. However, Amnesty also said that the government had failed to adequately demonstrate how the articles could be interpreted as a threat to national security or were intended or were likely to incite violence.
Rwanda’s laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism,” introduced after the 1994 genocide to restrict speech that could promote hatred, are widely acknowledged to be vaguely worded. The government promised in 2010 to review the “genocide ideology” law and the draft law is reportedly due to be discussed by the cabinet later this month. The law not only prohibits hate speech but also criminalizes legitimate criticism of the government.
Uwimana was arrested on July 8, 2010, and Mukakibibi the following week. The authorities denied that their arrest was linked to forthcoming elections in August. Umurabyo had in its recent editions raised questions about a number of sensitive topics, including the murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage who was shot dead outside his home on June 24, 2010, the fallout between Kagame and two now-exiled military leaders, as well as reports alleging extravagant government spending on luxury airplanes.
In June 2010, the chairman of Rwanda’s Media High Council Board accused Uwimana of publishing “defamatory articles and falsehoods” in an article that suggested that all Rwandans were both victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. From 2007 to 2008, Uwimana served a one-year prison sentence on charges of “ethnic divisionism” and libel after she published an opinion piece on ethnic violence in Rwanda.
Write A Letter
- Protesting the extremely lengthy prison sentences given to Umurabyo editor Agnes Uwimana and reporter Saidati Mukakibibi for articles criticizing the Rwandan government;
- Urging the Rwandan authorities to release Uwimana and Mukakibibi and pursue any press-related case against them and other journalists in the civil rather than the criminal courts;
- Calling on the government to review the country’s vaguely worded laws on “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism.”
Send Your Letter To
President Paul Kagame
Office of the President
Fax: +250 252 572 431
National Public Prosecution Authority
Fax: +250 252 589 501
Email: [email protected]
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Rwanda in your country if possible.