Rwanda | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Rwanda

Rwanda

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

85

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

35

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

26

The constitution provides for freedom of the press "in conditions prescribed by the law." However, the government sharply restricts the ability of media to operate, citing the role that certain media outlets played in provoking violence during the 1994 genocide. The law now prohibits "any propaganda of ethnic, regional, racial, or divisive character or based on any other form of divisionism"; inciting "divisionism" is punishable by up to five years in prison. President Paul Kagame vetoed a new 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. A media law passed in 2003 paved the way for the licensing of private radio and television stations; however, the growth of independent media has been restricted owing to fear of official reprisals. Journalists doubt the independence of the High Council of the Press, which was established in 2003 to regulate the media.

Attacks on journalists critical of the government did not diminish in 2005, and the legacy of the 1994 genocide is still used to silence critical journalists. Since September 2005, Bonaventure Bizumureymi, editor of the independent newspaper Umuco, has been arrested and interrogated several times for writing articles critical of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. His colleague, Jean Leonard Rugambage, was detained in September, 10 days after writing an article alleging that judges in the gacaca tribunals-popular courts originally set up to try genocide suspects, in which defendants are judged by peers without access to a defense lawyer-are using their positions to settle personal feuds. He was later accused of being a murderer during the genocide and in November was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to one year in prison after contesting the impartiality of the gacaca court appointed to try him.

Both private and state-owned newspapers operate in Rwanda, though financial constraints make it impossible for them to publish on a daily basis. The government influences the printed press through its purchase of advertising space, upon which many private publications are financially dependent. Authorities also maintain control over both radio and television broadcast media, causing many journalists to practice self-censorship and regularly follow the government line. Nonetheless, a number of private radio stations have been established since the 2003 elections-including commercial, community, and religious stations-though most focus primarily on musical broadcasts instead of political news. The economic challenges facing the independent media are compounded by the existence of only one government-run printing press available to nonreligious media, forcing Rwandan print media to publish abroad to avoid direct government control of their content. Foreign media like the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of America are able to broadcast from Rwanda and are one of the few sources of independent media in the country. Internet access appears to be unrestricted but is available to less than 1 percent of the population.