Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Rwanda’s media remain restricted by persistent government censorship. The constitution provides for freedom of the press “in conditions prescribed by the law.” However, in 2006 the government continued to sharply restrict the ability of media to operate, citing the role that certain media outlets played in provoking violence during the 1994 genocide. A law passed in 2002 guarantees media independence by formally forbidding censorship, but in practice the media are still tightly controlled by the government. Articles of the same law impose criminal sanctions on the media for a wide range of offenses such as “divisionism” and “genocide ideology,” punishable by up to five years in prison. Libel is still a criminal offense; however, in August 2006 the High Court overturned a criminal libel conviction made by the lower courts against Charles Kabonero, editor of Umuseso. Nonetheless, the court upheld his conviction of “insulting a public figure” and the one-year suspended prison sentence and US$1,900 fine that went with that conviction. In 2006, the government debated a new press law that could provide marginal improvements to the 2002 law by protecting newspaper printers and vendors from criminal libel prosecutions and removing a judge’s obligation to impose the maximum sentence on journalists convicted of certain criminal offenses.
The government’s attitude toward the press continued to be one of suspicion and control. Although there were no formal arrests of journalists in 2006, attacks on those critical of the government remained a consistent problem throughout the year. In particular, the biweekly independent Umuco and its personnel have been repeatedly harassed and threatened for their criticism of the government. In January and again in August, Umuco’s editor was forced into hiding after the publication of articles critical of the ruling party led to threats and a police summons. In a positive turn, an Umuco journalist was finally released from prison in July after spending nearly 11 months in jail on a murder charge related to the 1994 genocide, a charge of which he had been acquitted several years earlier. In June 2006, Sonia Rolley, a correspondent with Radio France Internationale (RFI), was expelled from the country even after she received press accreditation from the Ministry of Information. Then in November, when a French court accused Rwandan president Paul Kagame of involvement in the 1994 assassination of former president Juvenal Habyarimana that triggered the genocide, the Rwandan government formally severed diplomatic relations with France and ordered the entire RFI office to leave the country.
Although the government continued its confrontational approach to relations with the media in 2006, many independent print publications refused to censor themselves and published articles critical of government behavior. Nonetheless, all newspapers operating in Rwanda, including the state-owned papers, face financial constraints that make it impossible for them to publish on a daily basis, and most private publications do so only twice a month. In addition, the government has the potential to influence print publication content through its purchase of advertising space, upon which many newspapers are financially dependent, as well as its operation of the sole domestic printing press available to nonreligious media. In 2006, the government issued a number of new radio licenses; however, the authorities maintain tight control over the broadcast media, and most of the independent stations avoid political content and focus instead on music. Independent television is legally permitted, but the government continues to maintain a monopoly on the industry. Despite the expulsion of RFI this year, other foreign media like the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America are able to broadcast from Rwanda. Internet access appears to be unrestricted but is available to less than 1 percent of the population.