Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the pigheadedness and cruelty of the Rwandan judicial system, which has just passed extremely long jail sentences on two women journalists, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, and Saidath Mukakibibi, one of her reporters.
A Kigali high court today imposed a 17-year sentence on Nkusi and a seven-year one on Mukakibibi on charges of inciting civil disobedience, causing divisions and denying the 1994 genocide.
Nkusi’s lawyer told Reporters Without Borders he was very disappointed by the verdict and intended to appeal to the supreme court.
“The high court went too far,” he said. “It took no account of our requests. Our view is that the court has no tangible evidence of their criminal guilt. This case should be tried as a disciplinary matter by the Media High Council. These two journalists should be released. Furthermore, the sentences they have been given are very severe.”
The two women have been detained since 8 July 2010. Last month, prosecutors requested a 33-year sentence for Nkusi and a 12-year one for Mukakibibi.
06.01.2011 - Prosecutor requests 33 and 12 years in jail for two women journalists
Reporters Without Borders is extremely shocked by the long jail sentences that a prosecutor requested yesterday for two newspaper journalists who, after six months in pre-trial detention, are being tried before a Kigali high court on a range of charges including genocide denial and inciting public disorder.
The prosecution requested 33 years in prison and a fine of 800,000 Rwandan francs (1028 euros) for Agnès Uwimana Nkusi (photo), the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, and 12 years in prison and fine of 200,000 Rwandan francs (257 euros) for one of her reporters, Saidath Mukakibibi. A verdict is expected on 4 February.
“After a 2010 election year that was very trying for independent news media, these proposed sentences show that the government is not being guided by any desire for change,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Anyone who freely expresses an opinion or is critical of the authorities risks not only arrest but also a severe sentence.”
The press freedom organization added: “We urge the Rwandan judicial authorities not to convict these two journalists, and we call on the government to stop using legislation such as the ‘genocide ideology’ law to suppress the free expression of opinions. Charges such as defamation or insulting the president are too often inflated to ‘genocide denial’ or inciting public disorder.”
When requesting the harsh sentences, prosecutor Augustin Nkusi said: “Their articles, for example in their issue 29, clearly show the intent and motive of the two, which was to incite the people against an elected government. It is deliberate from the language they use, and the fact that they never bothered to speak to both sides in the story, clearly demonstrates their intentions.”
The prosecutor added: “Article 12 of the Media Law indicates that while journalists have exclusive rights and freedoms of speech and expression, there are laws that they cannot break.”
Agnès Nkusi’s lawyer pointed out that her client was seropositive and that her state of health was incompatible with a long stay in prison.
Nkusi and Mukakibibi have been held in supposedly “provisional” pre-trial detention since their arrest on 8 July 2010 on charges of inciting civil disobedience, insulting the president, spreading false rumours and denying the genocide of the Tutsis. More information
Nkusi has had run-ins with the authorities before. She was sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges in 2007, but went back to work as a journalist after serving the sentence. The Media High Council, a government body that oversees the press, gave her two warnings last year before her arrest in July. Although pleading not guilty, Uwimana acknowledged mistakes in her articles and breaches of professional conduct.
Rwanda was ranked 169th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This was Africa’s third worst ranking. Only Eritrea and Sudan were below it in the index. President Paul Kagame has been on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom” for several years .
Photo : Agnès Uwimana Nkusi