Rwanda | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Rwanda

Rwanda

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 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

Although there have been some improvements in political rights and civil liberties in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, authorities continued to restrict the media in 2007 through the illegal imprisonment of critical journalists and the harassment of independent outlets. The constitution provides for freedom of the press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government routinely limited the ability of the independent media to operate, often invoking the destructive role that certain radio stations played in the genocide. The media are tightly controlled by the government in practice despite a 2002 law that formally forbids censorship. Libel remains a criminal offense, and there are no laws guaranteeing access to information. In June 2007, the minister of information arbitrarily revoked the license of the Weekly Post, a new private publication, three days after its first edition was issued, despite laws requiring a court order for such a move.

Throughout 2007, the government of President Paul Kagame regularly arrested and illegally detained journalists. In fact, the risk of imprisonment posed by far the greatest threat to independent journalists in Rwanda. On January 12, for example, authorities arrested and charged the editor of the private periodical Umurabyo, Agnes Nkusi-Uwimana, with divisionism and discrimination following the paper’s publication of an article that was critical of the government. On the belief that Nkusi-Uwimana represented a “threat to state security,” a judge kept her in pretrial detention until April, when she was sentenced to a year in prison and fined approximately US$760. Separately, in February, authorities arrested a Congolese journalist and professor who was teaching in Kigali on charges of threatening state security, following his publication of a critical online article; he was released on March 21 and subsequently deported, but his case marked Rwanda’s first imprisonment in response to an online publication. Also in March, police detained a reporter and a photographer with the American magazine U.S. News & World Report, along with a local journalist for the private newspaper Umuco, as they attempted to cover a trial. The two Americans were released after three hours following the confiscation of their equipment, while the local journalist escaped from detention. A number of other incidents of harassment took place during the year. Umuseso, a critical independent newspaper, faced repeated hounding by the authorities; its editor, Gerard Manzi, was arrested and held for a week in August on fabricated rape charges.

The aggressive stance of the authorities toward the media could be seen in official rhetoric as well. During a state-run television program in September, government ministers accused many in the media of working with “negative forces” inside and outside of the country, with the interior minister suggesting that any journalist who publishes an official document should be detained until he or she reveals the source of the leak. In response, RIMEG—which produces papers including Umuseso and is Rwanda’s largest independent private publisher—announced that it would suspend its operations until the government apologized or provided evidence for its accusations. Umuco soon followed suit. Both publishing houses remained closed for several weeks but started publishing again despite the government’s inaction, citing the ongoing demand for independent news. On a more positive note, Tatiana Mukakibibi, a former presenter for the state-owned Radio Rwanda, was finally acquitted of genocide charges after spending 11 years in pretrial detention.

Most newspapers operating in Rwanda face a number of financial constraints that prevent them from publishing on a daily basis. The New Times, a private paper with close government ties, is the only paper that appears daily, and the government refuses to advertise with outlets that regularly produce critical reports. The state broadcasters continue to dominate radio and effectively monopolize television in the country, with the handful of private radio stations focusing largely on entertainment. The British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America are available in Rwanda, but Radio France Internationale is still banned after the government severed diplomatic relations with France in 2006. Internet access was not restricted or monitored by the government, but it was available to less than 1 percent of the population in 2007.