Rwanda | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Rwanda

Rwanda

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

84

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

34

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

26

Citing the contentious and provocative role of certain media outlets during the 1994 genocide, the present government sharply restricts the ability of the media to operate freely, leaving a handful of independent newspapers struggling to survive. President Paul Kagame vetoed a media bill passed by the parliament in September 2001 that prescribed the death penalty for journalists found guilty of inciting genocide and would have compelled reporters to reveal confidential sources. However, media watchdogs reported a decline in press freedom in 2004. A media bill passed in 2003 paved the way for the licensing of private radio and television stations, but the state continues to monopolize the broadcast media. Journalists doubt the independence of the High Council of the Press, which was established in 2003 to regulate the media.

Reporters continue to suffer intimidation, attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, and deportation at the hands of authorities. In March 2004, Robert Sebufirira, editor of Rwanda's main independent newspaper, Umuseso, and two colleagues were forced to flee the country after receiving death threats from senior members of the government security services. The newspaper had published a series of articles accusing a high-ranking justice official of abuse of office. When the journalists were detained in February, a top military official referred to them as "Interahamwe," a reference to the Hutu militia that spearheaded the genocide and a term understood to constitute a threat of death or imprisonment. Sebufirira's successor, Charles Kabonero, was detained or interrogated at least four times in the remaining months of the year and eventually tried on charges of ethnic "divisionism" and defaming a high-ranking official. It was the first criminal case against a news outlet to go to trial since President Kagame took power in 1994. In late November, Kabonero was acquitted of the divisionism charge and punished with only token fines and damages on the defamation charges, a decision that raised hopes for greater press freedom. At the same time, the government censored the press by confiscating newspapers on several occasions.

The government is able to influence the press through its purchase of advertising space, upon which many private publications are financially dependent. There are a growing number of independent newspapers, but fearing official reprisals, many journalists practice self-censorship and coverage tends to follow the government line. This is compounded by the existence of only one government-run printing press available to nonreligious media, which forces Rwandan print media to publish abroad to avoid direct government control of their content.