Rwanda backs free speech, not 'hate media': minister

5th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rwanda is "committed to free expression", but will not allow "hate media" to operate, its foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in London on Thursday days ahead of presidential elections.

The landlocked east African country has been accused of restricting press freedom in the run up to the polls, following the assassination of one newspaper editor, blamed by some on government-linked forces, and the suspension of more than two dozen newspapers.

"There is no question Rwanda is committed to promoting free expression. It's entrenched in our constitution," Mushikiwabo told an audience at London's Chatham House think-tank, on Thursday.

But, she added, "while we want to have a free press, we have to be very careful not to allow the media to have a free ride inciting violence and not respecting the rule of law".

Asked about the banning of more than two dozen newspapers ahead of the August 9 elections, Mushikiwabo said: "The papers suspended are papers that have been problematic for a number of years. Some of the editors have gone to court a few times."

Rwanda, could not be "hostages to the hate media," she said, in a reference to the radio station and other media outlets which fanned the 1994 genocide in which up to 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, died.

"The issue is making sure we have a critical but responsible press. We know that a country cannot develop without a free press but a free press does not have the licence to be a destructive press," the foreign minister said.

The "two or three" political parties that had been barred from running had "simply failed to meet the conditions" for taking part in the elections, she added.

Referring to Victoire Ingabire, an opposition politician banned from running against incumbent Paul Kagame, Mushikiwabo said: "She came with a criminal record. Her trial is coming up." Ingabire is accused of denying the 1994 genocide, promoting division and complicity in terrorism.

© 2010 AFP

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