Rwanda: Govt Officials Warn Journalists

Regulation & Policy

Top government officials on Sunday accused Rwanda's independent press of undermining the government and threatened to force journalists to reveal their sources, according to local journalists.

During a four-hour state television broadcast on September 9 in the capital, Kigali, Interior Minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana said the government would hold reporters responsible for using leaked documents.

"If a journalist writes a story quoting a letter smuggled to him, he is equally liable to punishment," Mr Harerimana said. "He has to tell us who gave him the letter before his case is dropped." The programme featured a panel of government ministers and representatives from the security forces.

According to Rwanda's 2002 press law, the right to access or publish government documents "may be limited" when it comes to certain topics, including national security, but the scope is subject to appeal. The provision was intended to prevent the disclosure of sensitive strategic military information and government deliberations, according to Rwandan legal expert Francois Rwangampuhwe.

However, some media practitioners described the move as an attempt to bully the press. "We condemn this kind of blatant attempt to bully the press," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "The government needs to recognise that the press cannot play its watchdog role without the use of confidential sources and documents."

The comment was related to a July story in a leading independent weekly, Umuseso, which cited documents related to a pay scandal involving Rwandan peacekeeping soldiers returning from the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur, Umuseso Deputy Managing Editor Furaha Mugasha said.

Finance Minister James Musoni, who has been the target of several critical articles by independent newspapers, accused the papers of collusion with "negative forces".

(The Monitor (Kampala), 13 September 2007)