Reporters Without Borders is shocked and outraged to learn that Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the deputy editor of the fortnightly Umuvugizi, was gunned down outside his home in Kigali at about 11 p.m. on 24 June. He was the first journalist to be murdered in Rwanda since Emmanuel Munyemanzi in 1998.
“We have for months being condemning the climate of terror in Rwanda, the escalating repression of independent journalists and totalitarian tendencies,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It seems that newspaper closures, trials of journalists and blocking of websites have not been enough to elicit a reaction from the international community. Will this tragic development finally open the eyes of those who support this government?”
The press freedom organisation added: “As the August presidential election approaches, the government is organising a tightly controlled and monolithic electoral campaign in which all sources of criticism are being suppressed. This undertaking seems to have culminated in the ambushing and murder of this renowned journalist.”
In a resumption of diplomatic relations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali in February and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, attended the Africa-France summit in Nice on 31 May and 1 June.
Reporters Without Borders believes that dialogue cannot be resumed unless particular attention is paid to press freedom and it therefore calls on the French authorities and the European Union delegation in Kigali to ensure that an independent investigation is carried out into this murder. Monitoring this case should be a priority for France’s ambassador to Kigali, Laurent Contini.
Rugambage was slain by four shots fired at close range by gunmen who have yet to be identified. The police took his body away to carry out an autopsy. Also known as “Sheriff,” he left a wife and two-year-old child. His murder has caused shock and dismay in both Rwanda and abroad.
“Jean-Léonard was without doubt killed as a result of his coverage of last week’s attempted murder of Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa in exile in South Africa,” Reporters Without Borders was told by Jean-Bosco Gasasira, his newspaper’s editor, who is himself in exile.
Rugambage reported that telephone calls were made between Rwandan intelligence chief Emmanuel Ndahiro and the Rwandan citizens who were arrested in South Africa after the shooting attack on Gen. Nyamwasa. In a story about the shooting in Le Monde on 22 June, headlined “Rwandan stray bullets,” French journalist Jean-Philippe Rémy wrote: “It is not easy to say what distinguishes Rwanda from a full-blown dictatorship.”
Rugambage had experienced several run-ins with the authorities. Accused of murder during the genocide and then sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of court, he was detained for 11 months in 2005 and 2006 before finally being acquitted. He edited Umuco for a long time before joining Umuvugizi.
He was also the Rwanda correspondent of the regional press freedom organisation Journalist in Danger (JED). “He told things as he felt them,” said a journalist who participated with him in a workshop in Brazzaville in 2007 for JED’s regional correspondents. “He was a very committed guy who paid with his life for his courage as a reporter. He did not beat about the bush, unlike some of his Rwandan colleagues.”
Rwanda was ranked 157th out of 179 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This was the fourth lowest ranking in Africa, above only Eritrea, Somali and Equatorial Guinea. President Kagame has for years been on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom.
Picture : Jean-Léonard Rugambage (copyright : Umuvugizi)