Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization involved in the fight for press freedom has expressed concern over the fate of ’Umuseso’, one of Rwanda’s leading independent weeklies, which could be closed down as a result of a case brought by the public prosecutor’s office, accusing it of libel and invasion of privacy.
The concern comes after the weekly was dragged to court by the public prosecutor claiming that it committed a crime by reporting that a government minister was having an extra-marital affair with the mayor of Kigali. The public prosecution asked the court to have the three journalists involved in the case jailed for a period of one year and pay damages worth five million Rwandan Francs each and the newspaper be closed down permanently.
The court is due to issue its verdict on 22 February.
’We urge the judge to keep a cool head and to issue a fair verdict that respects press freedom,’ a press statement from Reporters Without Borders said.
The organization urged the court to first establish whether the defendants are guilty of libel and if they are, more appropriate punishments rather than jailing journalists and closing their newspaper for good be given.
Reporters Without Borders fears the gradual erosion of the limited freedom available to Rwanda’s privately-owned media in the run-up to the presidential election, scheduled for August.
On 27 January, the Kigali prosecutor’s office requested Umuseso’s closure and jail sentences (one year each) for its publisher, Charles Kabonero, its editor, Didas Gasana, and one of its reporters, Richard Kayigamba, for an article published in issue No. 382 in November 2009 about Cabinet Affairs Minister Protais Musoni and Kigali Mayor Aisa Kirabo Kacyira. The prosecutor’s office also asked that they be fined 5 million Rwandan francs (US$ 9,000) each.
Kayigamba claimed in the article, which was accompanied by photos of the minister and the mayor, that he caught them together in a hotel.
The public prosecutor’s office brought the case after the two officials denied the report.
Meanwhile, the one-year suspended prison sentence which each of the Umuseso’s publisher and editor received in an unrelated case brought by a wealthy businessman, Tribert Rujugiro, is due to be examined by an appeal court on 11 February.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Rwanda 157th out of 175 countries in their 2009 press freedom report, with Eritrea, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea being the only African countries that received worse rankings.
Source African Press Agency
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