Freedom of the Press
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Freedom of the Press Scores
Key Developments in 2016:
- In August, Sana Radio journalist John Ndabarasa disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and had not reemerged at year’s end.
- A journalist with the public broadcaster was elected chairperson of the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body established in 2013. The RMC had been without permanent leadership since its previous leader, Fred Muvunyi, fled Rwanda in 2015 after learning of ambiguously worded threats against him.
- A number of independent or opposition-aligned online news outlets remained inaccessible.
Media freedom in Rwanda remains severely restricted, despite assurances by government officials of their commitment to review the situation. Journalists risk arrest under a variety of restrictive laws, and can face long jail terms if convicted. Journalists also face intimidation from authorities, as well as arbitrary detention and arrest on trumped-up charges unrelated to their work. Many have fled the country to avoid persecution and reprisals, but even in exile Rwandan journalists have experienced extralegal intimidation, leaving a chilling effect that extends beyond the country’s borders. Most private outlets do not cover controversial topics, though a few radio stations have shown a willingness to criticize government policies. Progovernment newspapers and radio stations dominate the media landscape.
In 2015, RMC Chairman Muvunyi fled the country after learning of ambiguously worded plans to “remove” him; Muvunyi was known for successfully pushing back against government infringements on press freedom, and his departure left the body’s independence in question. In December 2016, Christopher Barore, a journalist with the public broadcaster, was elected to a three-year term as chairperson of the RMC. Barore had served as the RMC’s acting chair after Muvunyi left Rwanda.
Government censorship of internet content has increased in recent years. Several independent or opposition-aligned news outlets remained inaccessible in 2016, including the websites of Inyenyeri News, Veritas Info, the Rwandan, and Leprophete.
Journalists continued to face trumped-up charges and arbitrary arrest and detention in connection with their work in 2016. In January, writer and editor John Williams Ntwali, whose reporting had been critical of the government, was arrested, accused of the rape (later reduced to indecent exposure after evidence of an attack failed to materialize), and illegally detained for 13 days. In February, Ivan Mugisha of the East African weekly newspaper was arrested on legally dubious grounds, and interrogated about his reporting on a tax investigation into a Rwandan stone quarrying company.
In August, Ndabarasa, a journalist with Sana Radio, disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and had not reemerged at year’s end. A friend said they had received a message, purportedly from Ndabarasa, explaining that he had gone abroad. However, his family stated that they did not believe he left the country, and media watchdogs have expressed uncertainty about the message’s provenance.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom of the Press 2017. For background information on press freedom in Rwanda, see Freedom of the Press 2016.