Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Rwandan supreme court’s sentencing of prominent exiled independent journalist Jean Bosco Gasasira to two and a half years in prison for allegedly calling for civil disobedience and insulting President Paul Kagame in the online version of his newspaper Umuvugizi.
Gasasira told Reporters Without Borders that the week-long postponement of the hearing until today was probably to give the court time to find more convincing evidence against him. He has no right of appeal against the sentence. A charge of deliberately breaking the press law was dropped.
He said he would not be intimidated by court’s ruling. “The government wants to mess up my life and stop me working, but the ruling is a desperate move by longtime predators of the media.” He would risk arrest if he returned to Rwanda.
Gasasira has been threatened many times, beaten up in 2007, censored and hunted inside the country. He said his paper’s website has been hacked into in recent days and a bogus version, probably put together by government supporters, has appeared (http://umuvugizi.wordpress.com/). Gasasira says this would allow the government to see who reads the paper online and to post false news.
Media freedom is Rwanda is extremely fragile and the government is trying to snuff out free and independent media outlets. President Kagame is on the annual Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of predators of press freedom.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the Rwandan government’s determination to keep hounding one of its media bugbears, Jean Bosco Gasasira, editor of the bimonthly newspaper Umuvugizi and one of the country’s most outspoken journalists.
Prosecutors yesterday asked Rwanda’s supreme court to sentence him to ten years in prison on charges on which the Kigali high court acquitted him last September. The request was made at a hearing at which he was not represented by a lawyer. Gasasira himself fled the country months ago.
Gasasira is charged with spreading rumours that incited civil disobedience, insulting the president and deliberately violating Rwanda’s media law. The supreme court, whose decisions cannot be appealed, is due to announce its verdict on 27 May.
Acting on orders from the most senior government officials, Rwanda’s prosecutors are clearly bent on convicting Gasasira at all costs. The aim for President Paul Kagamé’s government is to smear his reputation and make it impossible for him to return. Reporters Without Borders urges the supreme court to follow the high court’s example and dismiss the charges.
Gasasira has been in the government’s sights for years and has often been harassed and prosecuted. Umuvugizi was suspended for six months on 13 April 2010. As tension mounted in the run-up to the August 2010 presidential election, Gasasira went into exile in order to continue working, and launched an online version of the newspaper.
He continued to upset the government with the articles he posted online and, on 3 June 2010, the Media High Council set a disturbing precedent for the flow of online information in Rwanda by giving orders to block Umuvugizi’s website.
Two women journalists are currently detained in Rwanda. They are Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, who was sentenced on 4 February to 17 years in prison, and Saidath Mukakibibi, one of her reporters, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in the same case.Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate and unconditional release