Journalist: Agnès Uwimana Nkusi
Jailed since: July 10, 2010
#FreethePress calling for the release of #Rwanda editor Agnès Uwimana Nkusi tinyurl.com/nzzsknq
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide - a premeditated ethnically motivated one-hundred day rampage that left close to one million Rwandans dead and many more displaced. Two decades later the country has rebuilt itself from ashes and much of Rwanda is now thriving. Many Hutus and Tutsis now live side by side and and its economy is fast-growing. However, this tale of progress has been tainted as the country lacks genuine freedoms, both political and of the press, and journalists frequently report harassment.
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Agnès Uwimana Nkusi is a Rwandan editor who remains behind bars. Police arrested her along with her colleague Saidati Mukakibibi on July 10, 2010 after articles critical of President Paul Kagame were published in the bi-monthly Kinyarwanda-language Umurabyo newspaper. Rwanda’s government-appointed Media Council had previously warned Uwimana to “tone down” her articles but she refused to stop her reporting. She was sentenced to 17 years in prison under Rwanda’s vague “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” laws. Uwimana’s sentence was later reduced to four years on April 5, 2012.
The Rwandan High Court charged Uwimana with endangering national security, genocide denial, defamation of the president, and divisionism. This was not the first time the government pursued her -- in January 2007, she was imprisoned for one year after publishing an anonymous letter criticising the government.
While the Umurabyo, which is now out of circulation, was at times viewed as sensational, local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists that it was one of the few titles to raise sensitive issues. Coverage included the July 2010 murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, critics of Kagame who fled the country after falling out with him because they feared it was too dangerous to stay, and the need for justice for ethnic Hutus killed in the genocide.
Rwanda’s uneasy relationship with the media has often left journalists exposed with little protection while also undermining the hard-won gains the country has made over the past two decades. Recently, the government has taken steps to improve the conditions for an independent media, however, there are still hurdles preventing one from truly flourishing. In 2013, Rwanda reformed its media law including shifting its primary regulatory framework from state control to self-regulation - a step that could bolster the profession. However, the state still has to approve the launch of any new media, stipulates the legal duties of a journalist and does not provide adequate protection for sources. While some positive moves have been made, a series of vague laws relating to “sectarianism” and “genocide ideology” still paralyses the industry and self-censorship is rife. Criminal defamation also remains on the books.
Suggested Tweet: #FreethePress calling for the release of #Rwanda editor Agnès Uwimana Nkusi tinyurl.com/nzzsknq
Freedom Now, which represents Uwimana pro-bono, discusses her case: http://www.freedom-now.org/campaign/agnes-uwimana-nkusi/
Tackling the legacy of the 1994 genocide: Media reform in Rwanda: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/03/tackling-legacy-1994-genocide-m...
Radio Netherlands report on Agnès Uwimana Nkusi: http://www.rnw.nl/africa/article/a-threat-nation-two-rwandan-journalists