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Rwanda: Harassment of journalists puts freedom of expression under attack

Amnesty International today expressed concern for the safety of Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the editor of the independent fortnightly Rwandan newspaper, Umuco, who has recently been the target of intimidation, harassment and armed attack from assailants allegedly associated with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the ruling political party in Rwanda.

Bonaventure Bizumuremyi was reportedly woken up at 3am on 15 January by four men banging on the front door of his home in the capital, Kigali. The men, armed with clubs and knives, forcibly entered and ransacked his house.

The harassment of Bonaventure Bizumuremyi is linked with his work as a journalist and his critical position on the RPF.

The latest editions of Umuco strongly criticized the government for its tight control of the judiciary, its coercion of local cooperatives to fund the RPF and its inability to run the country.

The recent incidents of harassment and intimidation are part of a continuing pattern of media control in Rwanda. Over the last few years, other newspapers like Umuseso have also been subject to continued intimidation, harassment and prosecution.

The authorities have used various means to harass and intimidate Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, making it difficult to do his work as a journalist, as well as violating his human rights.

Since September 2005 he has been detained and interrogated several times by the security services and put on trial for libel.

His colleague, Jean Léonard Rugambage, has been detained since 7 September 2005 on the grounds of alleged involvement in the 1994 genocide, a charge sometimes used to silence critics of the RPF.

He was arrested only 10 days after writing an article alleging that judges of gacaca tribunals in Ruyumba used their position for personal gain and to settle personal feuds.

Gacaca is a community-based system of tribunals established by the government in 2002 to try people suspected of crimes during the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure freedom of expression and information.

As stated in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2002:

“States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.�

It is the responsibility of the Rwandan Government to ensure that all journalists are allowed to work independently and free from attacks and fear of harassment and human rights abuses.

Amnesty International is calling on the Rwandan authorities to conduct independent and impartial investigations into all attacks or acts of intimidation against journalists, to publish the results of such investigations and bring those responsible to justice.

Amnesty International urges the Rwandan government to ensure the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and act in line with its international human rights obligations.

Amnesty International also calls on the members of the international community, including the African Union and the United Nations, to urge the Rwandan authorities to end the continuing harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders.

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