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Rwanda journalists under threat
KIGALI, Rwanda — Sporting a hat at a jaunty angle and a winning smile, Fred Mwasa is very much a journalist about town here.
Driving through Kigali, he rattles off commentary about the construction sprouting up across the capital city.
“That is our first shopping mall. And that is going to be a Marriott Hotel. … Americans bring democracy. Chinese bring things we need, like new roads,” says Mwasa, pointing out a new divided thoroughfare, landscaped with grass, flowering shrubs and palm trees.
“These old houses will be replaced by high-rise buildings. The families will be moved to the outskirts. Maybe they will be happy with their new homes, but maybe not,” said Mwasa, 31. “We want to look into that.”
Mwasa has a reporter’s knack for seeing stories wherever he looks. That’s good, because he’s the managing editor of a new weekly newspaper, The Chronicles, a sharp-looking paper that brims with political stories, features and commentary.
“Rwandan readers are looking for good stories to read and we are providing that,” said Mwasa, in his office, which features portraits of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I’m optimistic about Rwanda,” said Mwasa. “There is so much going on. So many new businesses. The time is right for a new paper.”
Two months old, The Chronicles’ circulation of 5,000 is quickly growing, and Mwasa expects advertisers will soon follow.
Mwasa’s bubbling enthusiasm about the prospects of Rwanda’s press, however, is not shared by many in the African media world. Rwanda is ranked as one of the world’s most repressive countries for the press, according to recent surveys.
More from GlobalPost: 2 sides to Paul Kagame 
Reporters Without Borders rates the Rwanda press climate as one of the 10 worst in the world, with a ranking of 168 out of 179 countries. Freedom House rates Rwanda’s press as “not free” and places it at 178 out of 192 countries.
Several independent papers have closed down after being criticized by President Paul Kagame’s government. Editors and reporters who have angered the government have fled Rwanda.
Sometimes even exile does not ensure safety. A Rwandan journalist was shot dead in Uganda on Dec. 1 in what many suspect was a hit job. Charles Ingabire, 32, was an outspoken critic of the Kagame government in the website, Inyenyeri. Police recovered five casings of a sub-machine gun in the bar where Ingabire was killed.
This was not the first time Ingabire was attacked. He was severely beaten in October by assailants who took his laptop and demanded that he shut down Inyenyeri. The website was hacked into and temporarily closed.
Ingabire is the second Rwandan journalist killed in less than two years. In June 2010, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, deputy editor of Umuvugizi a paper critical of the government, was shot as he drove home in Kigali.
“Critical journalists are not tolerated in Rwanda,” states the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since April 2010, six journalists fearing intimidation and arrests have fled in exile, according to the CPJ. Two Rwandan journalists, Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi, currently face lengthy prison sentences for charges that include insulting President Paul Kagame.
Yet, Mwasa and others say that the situation for the press is slowly improving. The Kagame government is taking steps to relax its grip on the state broadcasting and to reform laws regulating the press.
The improvements for the press were highlighted at the National Media Dialogue, a government-sponsored conference on the press on Nov. 15.
Dramatically contradicting the government’s speeches was the arrest, the same day, of the managing director of The New Times, a pro-government newspaper that had run an expose of corruption.
Rwanda’s press is relatively small and centered in Kigali. Rwanda’s literacy rate is 70 percent. As more than 80 percent of the country’s 11 million people live in the rural areas, radio is the most widely used way people get news.
Related: Rwandan journalist Charles Ingabire killed in Uganda 
As in everything in Rwanda, the press is affected by the 1994 genocide. Prominent Rwandan newspapers and radio stations aggressively incited the mass killings. That troubling history makes the government wary about allowing a completely unfettered press.
“This sector continues to be plagued by lack of professionalism,” said Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumurenyi, when opening the National Media Dialogue. “Some of our journalists use their independence and open media environment in ways that stand in contrast to the democratic ideas for which they claim to fight.”
As Rwanda works to build a future beyond the genocide, a free press is necessary, according to Mwasa.
“We have a positive contribution to make,” said Mwasa, who also teaches journalism in Kigali. “The press should point out things that people think is taboo — to encourage debate.”
For instance, Mwasa’s paper has featured articles on the issue of whether or not President Kagame should run for a third term. The paper quotes government supporters who say it would be a good thing for Kagame to extend his time in office. Others say it would be terrible.
“This is a healthy debate,” said Mwasa. “We are helping to make a more open atmosphere in our society. That’s good for all Rwandans.”
More: Rwanda Now 
Andrew Meldrum’s trip to Rwanda was sponsored by the International Reporting Project .
Rwandese Journalists in distress
Personal testimonies about the death of Charles Ingabire and the current media situation in Rwanda
By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 18 independent Rwandan journalists live in exile. Additionally, four journalists have been murdered with their cases having gone unsolved let alone investigated. The regional contrast to Rwanda and media freedoms, CPJ reports, that in the last ten years the DRC has three journalists who have fled into exile, Libya reports one and Ethiopia reporting five.
A young man named Charles Ingabire, who lived as a refugee in Uganda due to the personal safety risks he faced while in Rwanda, was murdered on December 1, 2011 by unknown assailants. Mr. Ingabire was the Editor of Inyenyerinews, an online Kinyarwanda publication that mainly focused on issues concerning the Rwandan Government and publishing information in regards to the current opposition to the ruling regime and other controversial issues facing Rwanda. The UNHCR reportedly denied Mr. Ingabire’s request for relocation despite his fears for his personal safety.
In September of 2011 he was badly beaten and his computers and phones were taken. He reported the incident to the police but no perpetrators were ever found. The UNHCR has remained silent on Mr. Ingabire’s murder nor have they returned phone calls to this reporter on the subject matter at hand.
The following statements are brief interviews conducted with some of his friends, acquaintances and fellow journalists who share his same fears for their safety. The statements given to this journalist from former Rwandan Journalist and editors currently in exile who wanted to respond to the death of their friend and colleague and the current state of media in Rwanda today. Most have wished to remain anonymous in order to protect their identities:
In a phone interview with McDowell Kalisa from Sweden he had this to say about the loss of Charles Ingabire and the state of the media in Rwanda. “I Worked for Rwanda Newsline and Umuseso and invested my own money with a coworker into the paper that was going to run every day.” He further explained that he was the first writer to be arrested from Umuseso due to allegations of false accusations on government officials. He endured psychological torture during his arrest and questioning. At one point they asked him to remove a controversial page from the paper and he refused. Every day he was arrested, same with his coworkers, for the critical content of the paper. He was once even arrested at a Ugandan border post because they printed their paper in Uganda and delivered then in Rwanda. During the elections the government was furious with the staff of Umuseso. They had broken the story that Kayumba was going to be forced to retire and the papers were confiscated as evidence of working with Kayumba. They went home as usual and the police came and beat them then left again. McDowell stated that he exposed corruption committed by government officials with President Kagame and when they ran the story they were questioned about their sources but would never divulge the information. Later they ran a story on how another government official tried to kill his wife because she could not have a baby and when they ran that story they were chastised because it was a private story and the officials did not feel it should be published publicly.
He escaped to Tanzania and was found in refugee hotel with his friends and cousins. Being that his first profession was a soldier no one from the government dared touch him. Although, government officials made efforts to stall his plea for safety by calling all of the western embassies to try and stop him from traveling abroad to seek refuge and safety. The Rwandan Government then fabricated stories saying he has stolen money and was trying to escape prosecution. The government even went as far as to call UNHCR in their continued quest of apprehending him. Two months later the Swedish government decided to give him asylum yet the Rwandan intelligence were in the airport but he was able to get to Brussels then to Stockholm from there. A woman from UNHCR was allegedly providing information to the Rwandan government on McDowell’s whereabouts and they were contacting him by email telling him all that he was doing. The embassy’s questioned him if he was Interahamwe and even in Sweden he was attacked. He informed the police of these incidents.
McDowell still fears that what happened to Charles Ingabire could happen to him. When I asked him if he believes the Rwandan government ordered the murder of Mr. Ingabire he stated, “Who else could do that.” When McDowell heard of the murder he reported that his reaction was very emotional. As a soldier, he has seen many deaths in the army and in his life and reported that he has survived with nightmares and has post trauma stress disorder from his life experiences in the army. He has been fighting since he arrived in Sweden in order to stay safe.
On the Media in Rwanda, McDowell stated that his problem is “where is Rwanda going because they don’t want to hear the truth. They don’t want to open up.” He stated to this reporter that he struggles with why so many have to suffer for the country when they were fighting for the truth and for the country. He said he has been tortured much and does not want to be tortured psychologically anymore.
When everything is ok in Rwanda he wants to go back. He misses his family terribly and hopes to see them one day. “It is my Rwanda…I fought for my country and I am a reporter.” He stated that “reporters are born not made.”
“What happened to Gaddafi can happen to them. His silence will not help him or anyone,” McDowell said in closing.
Another fellow journalist, also exiled in Uganda, had the following to say about the death of Charles Ingabire:
Yes, I knew him, and for the little time I knew him, I found in him a selfless and courageous messenger who reported about Rwanda without any favor or fear. He knew he was insecure in his country of refuge, Uganda, due to his critical reporting about Rwanda but he wasn’t ready to sacrifice his work at the altar of state harassment and intimidation. There is no doubt we have lost another fearless journalist. May his soul rest in peace.
This reporter stated further that, “All along I have been insecure too, I have been physically attacked, intimidated, and know at any chance, Rwandan secret services would blow breath out of me, but his death has brought a more livelier impression of how vulnerable I am, as well as other exiles here. His shocking death is hanging on me day in, day out, in day time and night.”
In response to what this journalist thoughts are on the current media situation in Rwanda his reply was quite profound; “Rwanda’s current media can best be described as ‘an authoritarian media theory’. We have media outlets that are unipolar- whose information flow is from the leaders to the led. In essence, we have government leaning paper and the Rwandan Government has systematically banned independent news outlets. There is no free media left in Rwanda, therefore, rarely do the news media hold the leaders accountable to the people and scrutinize public policy.”
Another interview conducted with a journalist exiled in Europe, had this to say about the loss of Charles Ingabire:
Mr. Ingabire’s death was shocking because the day he was killed I was thinking about sending him an e-mail. It’s very sad that the international community is watching how Kagame’s regime is killing people as they watched when the Genocide was taking place. When asked why the international community ignores such blatant murder and horrific acts the reporter replied, “I cannot tell why, but I hope something will happen and the situation will be changed by Rwandans themselves because one person or a clique of people cannot rule a country by the sword. I live in fear of people who have been deployed outside Rwanda to hunt all people who criticize the government but I think the security here is better than in Africa. I would call upon the US and the UK to put to task the President of Rwanda so that he can allow freedom of the press, political space and freedom of expression since they give Rwanda a lot of aid.”
Another exiled journalist spoke with this reporter regarding the death of Charles Ingabire and stated that he knew him and was at one time a source he had in Rwanda. This unnamed journalist lives in exile in a different country and did not want their name or location disclosed for safety reasons. This exiled journalist had this to say of the death of his friend and colleague, “I was not shocked at all, for lack of better words say I was chocked. I will tell you why, his not the first one to be gunned down by RPF that we all know. Ask anybody who has ever gone to UNHCR in Kampala, Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam they will tell you that as soon as you leave the office somebody will follow you.”
The journalist stated, “The fact is our publication did shake government and, honestly, I lived through as each day was my last. People read our newspaper but they feared to be seen talking to us or holding the paper. We just wanted to work, and that’s what gave us pleasure. I never had a salary and never missed a day’s work. Even in jail I would come out write about my experiences there. Through all of this I have learnt to be humbled.”
This journalist went on to report that he is now well settled, has gone to school and is just like any other resident in the country. The reporter had the following to say, “let me tell you, I actually hate to hear from pro RPF journalists who tend to assume we leave Rwanda without a reason just for greener pastures, but leaving my country knowing you can never see your family is what kills. But, I am very close to my family and we talk every day. Of course I live in fear of my life daily. For example some Rwandans live here but I never associate with them, I just keep it to myself.”
John Bosco Sanyu, former Managing Director of The New Times in Rwanda made the following written statement about the death of Charles Ingabire:
It is really sad that Charles Ingabire was killed or murdered. Yes, I knew him very well, and met him many times when I was working as the Chief Executive Office and Editor in Chief of The New Times and later Managing Director of Radio Contact Fm. Charles, like other fellow Rwandan journalists, stood up for a free and independent press in Rwanda. He worked with Umuvugizi, a local newspaper, and later began his on-line newspaper called Inyenyeri News. Since arriving in the US in 2008, I have not been in touch with him. However, I knew that he had fled the country, like many of us, to seek political asylum.
His death raises a lot of questions. First of all, it is common knowledge that he fled Rwanda due to persecution. The media watchdogs have pointed fingers at the Rwandan government for being behind his death. The Rwanda government, as usual, has denied any hand in his death. In such a situation, the Uganda government and the UNHCR should allow independent investigators to dig out the truth about Charles’ death.
UNHCR should explain to Charles’ family and the whole world why they (UNHCR) refused to relocate Charles to a third country. From what I have read in the media, Charles requested to be relocated to a third country because he felt insecure in Uganda. The UNHCR rejected his request. We want to know the reasons behind this refusal! Still, I am reliably told that the UNHCR has rejected the requests by other journalists and people holed up in Uganda to relocate to other countries. No doubt that people who flee Rwanda feel insecure in Uganda, therefore I urge the UNHCR to take these requests seriously otherwise they may be seen as accomplices in the serial killings of our brothers and sisters in the media.
Though I don’t have the evidence advanced by UNHCR in denying Charles’s request to be relocated to another country, I highly suspected that the killer could have connived with them (UNHCR) to deny Charles an opportunity to settle in a more secure country.
I have hope that Rwandans will one day enjoy a free and independent press. It may take time (years), but history shows that a struggle for a free and independent press is not done in vain. I pity those who invest in persecuting journalists or people as a way of entrenching themselves in power. In persecuting and silencing others, you eventually pay a much heavier price.
Therefore, I urge all journalists and people of good will who support a free and independent press in Rwanda, not to give up the struggle. Let us continue to pray for the soul of our friend, brother and colleague Charles Ingabire to rest in eternal peace. As for others in his family, particularly his wife and child, let all of Gods loving people offer their moral and financial support at this difficult moment.
The silent funeral of an exiled Rwandan journalist
Instead of the customary cries and wails, Bagala said, people wept quietly to themselves. “Even the speakers – usually at an African funeral everyone wants a chance to say something, good things about the deceased. But here no one wanted to talk.” In fact, only two pastors spoke at the funeral, and one of them did not give his second name, he said. When Bagala attempted to interview mourners, they declined to give their identities or have their photographs taken. Many attendees, he said, had fled Rwanda and feared agents would spot them.
Scattered amidst the mourners in the pews at the Evangelical Restoration Church were Ugandan and Rwandan security agents with walkie-talkies in their coat pockets, Bagala said. With such a tense atmosphere, it’s not surprising the whole service lasted only 20 minutes.
It is certainly too early to point fingers at anyone for the murder. The online journalist hardly practiced journalism while in Rwanda, except for a brief period at Umuco, a newspaper banned in 2008. Once Ingabire left Rwanda in 2007, he worked briefly for another publication, Umuvugizi (which has also periodically been banned), before he launched Inyenyeri News. The website appeared to be well read both inside and outside Rwanda, local journalists told me. Ingabire was a former soldier, and Inyenyeri News had many stories about the army, including testimonies from exiled soldiers which made the site popular in Kigali and in the diaspora. Two months prior to his murder, unidentified individuals attacked Ingabire, demanding that he stop publishing the website. Fearing further attacks, Ingabire had applied for resettlement to a third country, but the United Nations High Commission for Refugees rejected the application due to his former soldier status, colleagues told me.
The quiet, quick funeral is indicative of the trials and tribulations exiled Rwandan journalists face. Some media columnists claim their colleagues fled Rwanda in order to “get rich from international NGOs” or to get “quick resettlement” to a Western country. Nothing could be further from the truth. In all the cases of Rwandan exiled journalists I have encountered, the journalists have left with heavy hearts and light pockets, to live a destitute existence in a neighboring country. For those who apply for resettlement, the arduous process takes years. Worse, none of them feel safe even after they have settled outside Rwanda. Many of the mourners at Ingabire’s funeral told Bagala they lived in the outskirts of Kampala and feared the city center because of the heavy presence of agents there.
New York, December 2, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the fatal shooting of Rwandan journalist Charles Ingabire in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and calls on the police to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.
At around 2 a.m. on Thursday, unknown assailants shot online editor Ingabire of the news site Inyenyeri twice in the chest outside Makies 2 bar in a suburb of Kampala, local journalists told CPJ. The journalist was pronounced dead at the scene, according to news reports.
Ingabire was an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government. In 2007, he left Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and began working as a correspondent for the critical online site Umuvugizifrom Kampala. He started working for Inyenyeri last year, local journalists said.
Critical journalists are not tolerated in Rwanda, CPJ research shows. Since April 2010, six journalists fearing intimidation and arrests have fled in exile, according to CPJ research. Two Rwandan journalists, Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi, currently face lengthy prison sentences for charges that include insulting President Paul Kagame.
“We are saddened by the killing of Charles Ingabire, which effectively silences yet another exiled critical voice of the Rwandan government,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Ugandan police must do their utmost to investigate this murder and ensure journalists can work freely without fear of reprisal in the country.”
Police recovered five casings of a sub-machine gun at the scene of the crime as well as Ingabire’s cell phone, news reports said. The police also held for questioning two employees of the bar, since the journalist frequented the establishment, news reports said.
This was not the first time Ingabire was attacked. Local journalists told CPJ that unknown assailants attacked the journalist two months ago in Kampala, took the laptop he was carrying, and demanded he shut down Inyenyeri.
Ingabire is the second Rwandan journalist killed in less than two years, according to CPJ research. In June last year, former deputy editor of Umuvugizi, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was shot as he drove home in Kigali. Two suspects were convicted on homicide charges, but CPJ and local journalists expressed deep skepticism about the prosecution.