Friday, February 4, 2011

Rwanda's fight against journalists.

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For a country whose image has recently started to tumble, jailing journalists on ridiculous charges will not do Rwanda’s any favor.

Today, a Kigali Kangaroo court, pronounced two female journalists, Agnes Nkusi and Saidath Mukakibibi guilty of the usual charges that the Rwandan dictatorship likes to inflict on its political opponents: disrupting state freedom, propagating ethnic division, inciting civil disobedience, genocide revisionism and libel. They were sentenced to 17 and 7 years respectively. However, unlike the harassment of political opponents, the imprisonment of these journalists is likely increase international concern.

The problem with the dictatorship in Rwanda is that it lacks the capacity to learn from its mistakes. The concept of absolute power makes it immune to criticism and fools the ruling clique to think of themselves as untouchable. As such thinking dictates, whatever the leader wants is good for everyone and, similarly, whatever the leader dislikes is bad for the collective. Classically totalitarianism, you may say. Ironically, it is this kind of thinking that has contributed to the demise of dictators throughout history. As I write, we are already seeing this happen in many parts of northern Africa.

Back to Rwanda.

On September 13th last year, I covered a report that was released by Amnesty International on Rwanda’s law on genocide ideology. The report criticized Rwanda of basically undermine democracy arguing that the law “constitutes an impermissible restriction on freedom of expression under international law”. It further wondered, presciently so, whether the law left any room for journalists covering genocide-related issues. We now know that it does not.

Following the criticism, Rwanda hinted that they were willing to revise the contentious laws. In an interview with Radio France International, the Rwandan minister of Justice (or Injustice) downplayed the international pressure saying that, “Our internal assessment showed there was a problem somewhere … so we decided as a country that we would review it,” And most recently following the 10th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Rwanda again promised to review a number of laws that restrict the media, freedom of expression and political activity. As of today, despite the hot air full of promises, not much has been done.

I guess what is incomprehensible is that, while admitting that the laws are amok with errors, Rwanda would still use the same faulty laws to convict journalists to very long prison sentences. It shows how morally corrupt the regime is. Furthermore, one wonder if the pair will be released upon the revision of these laws? But, Rwanda being a dictatorship and a highly ranked “predator of press”, such a move is unlikely to happen. This leads to another worrying trend that deserves condemnation.

For years, Rwanda has argued that the press needs to be restricted because of its role in the 1994 genocide. Such a sensitive call would only be admissible if it were to be based on legitimate fact. To be sure, media played a key role in sowing the seeds of hatred in the society. However, the Rwandan regime is wrong in its analysis.

Here is why: First, most of the media responsible for incitement is radio. Only a small percentage of peasants are literate and those who are can hardly afford a newspaper. Second, it is the government control of the press (NOT A FREE PRESS) that incited ethnic hatred. The infamous Kangura newspaper and radio RTLM were not free. They both had ties to the ruling genocidal clique. Hence, those who are worried about genocide in Rwanda should actually be troubled by the government’s complete control of the press. The current ruling party, RPF, has acted in very irresponsible ways on numerous occasions, including the three-time invasion of DRC.

Rwanda may be moving towards economic recovery but without a strong press to keep the government checked, no one knows what may follow next.

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