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Cablegate: Press Freedom: End of Year Wrap-Up

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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Issues of press freedom in 2006 remained the subject of
much debate and action in Rwanda. A year which began with
public criticism of Rwanda's media by President Kagame and of
individual reporters by other officials later saw clear signs
that senior GOR officials recognize the importance of a free,
effective press to the development of Rwanda's democracy and
to international perceptions of the country. The year
concludes with evidence of a slow maturing of the media and
of its relations with the GOR. In spite of some reports of
harassment, occasional run-ins with the police and other
government authorities, and an alleged physical attack on one
journalist during the year, 10 members of Rwanda's private
media were, during a recent Embassy organized roundtable,
unanimous in declaring that the press in Rwanda is
considerably freer than it was even two or three years ago.
Major complaints focused on economic obstacles to making
journalism profitable, rather than charges of government

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The Scorecard

2. In 2006 no newspapers were seized, no new legal cases were
initiated against Rwandan journalists, there were no reports
of journalists being detained, and one journalist who began
the year in prison--Umuco reporter Jean Leonard
Rugambage--was released after his case was reviewed by senior
officials. The number of independent Rwandan media outlets
continued to grow: nine independent Rwandan radio stations
are now on the air, and some 37 newspapers are now being
published. During the year New Times became Rwanda's first
daily paper. While the New Times and government newspapers
continue to receive the lion's share of government
advertising, several newspapers received advertisements from
government bodies, including opposition papers such as
Umuseso. Newspapers such as Focus, Umuseso, Rwanda Newsline,
and Umuvugizi published articles critical of senior
government officials and institutions and the Rwandan
Patriotic Front without being sanctioned. Even
pro-government New Times published allegations of fraud,
waste, and abuse by government agencies and officials. Some
of Rwanda's radio stations expanded their news programming
during the year and also began to tackle more politically
sensitive issues that previously were ignored. Local
versions of "Crossfire" and "Hardtalk" on competing radio
stations have been successful and, in some instances,
influential. For example, Deputy Police Commissioner Mary
Gahonzire agreed to review the Rwandan National Police's
(RNP) decision to close bars weekdays at 10:00pm after the
issue was raised during her appearance on Contact FM's
Crossfire, and the Kigali city government's decision to ban
motorcycle taxis from city streets was rescinded in part
because of heavy criticism of the decision on radio stations
as well as in newspapers. Contact FM also recently has
collaborated with a local NGO, Institute for Research and
Dialogue for Peace, in broadcasting two-hour debates on the
role of political parties in the country and population

3. Nonetheless, occasional reports of harassment and
anti-press conspiracy theories persisted. The year's most
serious incidents and allegations centered on two
individuals: Umuco editor Bonaventure Bizumeremyi and VOA
stringer Lucie Umukundwa, and one institution: Radio France
International (RFI). As reported in Reftel B, Bizumeremyi
ran afoul of the High Council of the Press (HCP) following
publication in late July of issue 26 of the paper. The HCP
concluded that multiple articles in issue 26 violated
Rwanda's media law and demanded that Bizumeremyi publish an
apology and corrections. The contents of at least one of the
articles ultimately led the head of the Criminal
Investigations Division of the RNP on August 3 to summons
Bizumeremyi for questioning. Bizumeremyi responded by going
into hiding, published an apology in another Kinyarwanda
newspaper, and, sometime between August 11 and August 14,
crossed into Uganda.

4. In a recent meeting with Emboff, Bizumeremyi confirmed
that he returned to Rwanda in early November after completing
two months of journalism training in Benin. Bizumeremyi
stated that he considers the incident surrounding issue 26
closed, he was never charged with any offense, and he has not
felt compelled to change his editorial line. Asked how and
when he determined it was safe to return to Rwanda,
Bizumeremyi replied that he knew it was safe after hearing an

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August 14 presidential press conference at which Kagame,
responding to questions about alleged harassment of local
journalists, ordered the State Minister for Internal Security
to investigate the allegations and told law enforcement
officials to leave the journalists alone.

5. As reported in Reftel C, August 14 also was the date of an
alleged physical attack on Olivier Tibasumba, a part-time VOA
employee whose sister, Lucie Umukundwa, was a VOA stringer
and head of the VOA office in Kigali. According to
Tibasumba, the unknown assailants threatened to harm his and
Umukundwa's families unless they stopped interfering in their
work. Immediately after the attack, Umukundwa and Tibasumba
told Emboff they believed Umukundwa, who was publicly
criticized for her reporting by a GOR official in January,
was the real target of the threat. Subsequently Umukundwa
reported receiving threatening phone calls and suspicious
visits from unidentified individuals. Embassy officers had
numerous contacts with high level GOR officials regarding
Umukundwa's situation. Several of these officials offered to
speak directly with Umukundwa and to follow up on any
tangible information she could provide regarding the reported
threats. Umukundwa declined to avail herself of the
opportunity to speak directly to these officials.

6. Umukundwa eventually left Rwanda via Congo and made her
way to Uganda. Umukundwa currently is studying journalism in
France. Tibasumba continues to live in Rwanda without any
further reports of harassment. Both the HCP and the RNP
conducted investigations into the alleged attack. The RNP
concluded that the allegation "seems to have been fabricated"
based on the following factors: 1) Neither Tibasumba nor
Umukundwa ever filed a police report on the matter, despite
having been advised to; 2) Umukundwa refused to take or
return calls from police investigators; 3) Tibasumba was
unable to furnish names of any of the individuals who he said
helped him from the crime scene to his home after he was
beaten, the motorist who was with him before he was beaten,
or the hospital where he reported being taken for treatment.
The HCP expects to release its findings in the next week.

7. The deterioration of relations between Rwanda and France
during the year had a direct impact on the operations of RFI
in the country. Per Reftel D, the GOR decided in June not to
renew the visa of RFI correspondent Sonia Rolley and gave her
48 hours to depart the country. While the GOR has never
publicly stated the reason for its decision, the Information
Ministry had recently renewed Rolley's press credential and
indicated that they had found nothing objectionable in her
reporting. According to the resident Agence France Presse
reporter, RFI intended to replace Rolley at the beginning of
2007. On November 27, however, the last French officials
departed Rwanda after the severing of diplomatic ties between
the two countries. The GOR decided at the same time to cease
the activities of all projects and institutions in Rwanda
affiliated with the Government of France, including the
French school, the Franco-Rwandan Cultural Center, assistance
projects, and local operations and broadcast of RFI. The
decision to suspend RFI operations in the country and to end
transmission of RFI's signal is the direct result of the
harsh break in relations between the countries and is not
related to the content of RFI broadcasts.

8. While Umuseso, Umuvugizi, and Umuco made allegations
during the course of the year of verbal harassment and of a
conspiracy to shut these opposition papers down, at year's
end all three papers are operating without interference and
have not scaled back their criticism of the government.

Beyond the Scorecard

9. Rwanda's government and society remain very hierarchical
and people quickly fall in lockstep with senior government
officials, particularly President Kagame. This tendency was
evident early in 2006 when Kagame's January 24 public
criticism of the media for a lack of ethics and skills set
the tone for similar statements by other senior Government
officials (including in a public meeting where one BBC
stringer and Umukundwa reportedly were accused of
insufficient patriotism and biased reporting). Kagame
subsequently stated that his comments were intended not to
denigrate or threaten the journalism profession but to prod
the journalists to improve their standards. Kagame has been
increasingly accessible to the media since the early months
of 2006. He has held regular, lengthy, and wide-ranging
press conferences for local journalists, spent two hours
fielding questions from panelists and the public on a live
radio talk show (on an independent station), and chastised
other government officials for not making themselves more

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accessible to journalists. Official criticism of the media
has, of recent, been less accusatory and more focused on the
need for improved professionalism and skills. One
manifestation of this change in attitude is a renewed
emphasis on providing training for journalists. Both the
Information Ministry and the HCP have organized journalism
workshops, and the HCP intends to open a unit dedicated
specifically to the task of coordinating and organizing
journalism training. Both the Information Ministry and the
HCP have supported the establishment of a training center in
Kigali for working journalists.

10. Shyaka Kanuma, chief editor of Focus newspaper and a
former Nieman fellow at Harvard, who has referred to
President Kagame in writing as a benevolent dictator and
criticized Rwanda for a lack of political space, nonetheless
credits Kagame with creating an environment in which the
press is free to express itself. In a recent conversation
with Emboffs, Kanuma expressed concern not about a lack of
press freedom in Rwanda but about the fact that it is
insufficiently grounded institutionally and depends too much
on Kagame individually. In extensive conversations with
Emboffs, no Rwandan journalist has asserted that press
freedom worsened over the course of the year. In fact,
during a recent roundtable discussion, members of Rwanda's
independent media were unanimous in their belief that there
is greater press freedom in the country today than in
previous years.

11. Rwanda's journalists themselves have shown signs of
renewed vigor in recent months. Following an
Embassy-sponsored workshop on media management, participants
in the workshop led by the president of Rwanda's Press House
drafted a joint statement calling on the Government to remove
tariffs on printing supplies that make newspaper publication
in Rwanda cost prohibitive for most outlets. Invited to
provide comment on two pieces of legislation concerning the
media sector currently before parliament, the Press House and
Association of Rwandan Journalists have begun organizing
sessions with their members in order to provide a thorough
review of the bills. Most recently, the journalists took it
upon themselves to review controversial articles which seemed
to deny the genocide in Rwanda, written by Agnes
Nkusi-Uwimana, owner and director of the
Kinyarwanda-lanagauge bi-monthly, Umurabyo. An ad hoc
committee of journalists selected by their peers criticized
Nkusi-Uwimana for her lack of professionalism, for tarnishing
the reputation of journalists in Rwanda, and for printing a
revisionist article and called on her to publish an apology
and corrections in the paper's next issue. This first step
toward self-regulation demonstrated greater initiative on the
part of the journalists and an increased awareness of how
they can work to build the trust of the government and
ostensibly independent institutions such as the HCP (Note:
this case will be reported in greater detail septel).

Looking Ahead

12. The many obstacles to further development of Rwanda's
press outlined in Reftel A remain. These include financial,
technical, and human resource limitations, poor legislation,
and weak institutions. There are, however, two areas where
significant progress can be achieved in the coming year.
When parliament returns from recess in late January it will
take up draft bills to revise the current media law and to
replace the presidential statute that governs the HCP. As
currently written, post believes that the bills do little to
address the concerns expressed by many international
observers with respect to press freedom issues. Parliament
has, however, invited public comment on the bills and, as
noted above, journalists will have an opportunity to present
their views. Parliament also has accepted the Embassy's
offer to fund an independent analysis of the bills by a media
law expert. Properly drafted, these two bills could create
the legal foundation necessary to expand press freedom in the

13. USAID also is in the final stages of discussions to
provide first year operating costs for the Great Lakes Media
Center, a new institution established primarily for the
purpose of providing training for Rwanda's working
journalists. Led by American photojournalist Sally
Stapleton, the Center enjoys the support of local journalists
and government officials alike. All parties hope that the
Center will, in the long-term, address the skills shortage
among Rwanda's journalists and contribute to the development
of a more professional and effective press.

© Scoop Media

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