Rwanda faces western calls over media 'suppression'

24th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Western countries in the UN human rights council on Monday urged Rwanda to protect journalists after raising concerns about attacks and restrictions on freedom of speech.

"While acknowledging Rwanda's painful history with the misuse of the media to foment violence, we note that the suppression of free speech has also led to bloodshed and violence," US delegate John Mariz told the council.

"We remain concerned with the lack of progress in allowing media organs to speak freely without fear of punishment," he added during a review of Rwanda's human rights record in the 47 member body.

Britain also acknowledged the role of some media in the 1994 genocide in the country, but remained "concerned about restrictions on freedom of speech" including the "suspension of independent newspapers".

British ambassador Peter Gooderham also called for investigations into reports of journalist harrassment, while France appealed for information on the probe into the killing of newspaper editor Jean-Leonard Rugambage in June.

Rugambage, the deputy editor of Umuvugizi newspaper, and an outspoken critic of the Rwandan authorities, was shot outside his home in Kigali.

The Rwandan authorities were accused of having ordered the killing but have always denied any implication.

A human rights group reported in October that two men were jailed for life for the killing during a dispute over the genocide.

Switzerland and Canada also joined the defence of media freedom, amid concern that recent laws which prohibit denial of genocide and "genocide ideology" could easily be misused or misinterpreted.

Earlier this month, Rwandan state radio reported that a prosecutor sought a 33-year prison sentence for the editor of a local independent newspaper, Agnes Uwimana, who was accused of denying the 1994 genocide and defaming senior officials including President Paul Kagame.

In Geneva, France described the sentence as "severe".

© 2011 AFP

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