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Rwanda: Newspaper seizures must stop.

ARTICLE 19

11 Jun 2013

Journalists working at a newspaper in Kigali.

ARTICLE 19 condemns the seizure of newspapers by security forces in Gatuna at the border with Uganda. Copies of the Rwandan newspapers Impamo, Rushyashya and Intego were held by guards on the grounds that they contained articles discussing whether the President might seek re-election for a third term. The majority of Rwandan newspapers are printed in Uganda, as printing costs are much cheaper there, and then transported across the border into Rwanda. The newspapers were confiscated on 4 June and released 3 days later.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Rwandan authorities to allow the media to operate freely, to refrain from interfering with the distribution of newspapers and to facilitate debate about issues of public importance.

“The third term question is of constitutional significance in Rwanda and clearly a matter of great public importance. The media should be allowed to act as a platform for public debate. Any attempt to restrict that debate is a violation of freedom of expression” Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19’s Director for Eastern Africa.

“The seizure of newspapers at the border is a clear attempt to censor and to prevent public debate, which must not be tolerated” added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned about reports that the newspapers were only released after media owners agreed not to publish information about discussions on a possible constitutional amendment that would allow President Paul Kagame a third term in office. Any such agreement fettering press freedom would be a violation of international standards on freedom of expression.

President Kagame’s second term ends in 2017. According to the constitution of Rwanda as it currently stands, he is not able to run for a third term of office. Despite a public statement on the 27 February 2013 in which the President said he had no interest in running again, there has been sustained public debate about whether he might seek to extend his mandate through constitutional reform.

“Just a few months ago the government passed a law enabling the media to regulate itself. Any concern about content in a newspapers should be lodged with the independent self-regulatory committee” said Maina.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government of Rwanda to stop attempting to restrict discussions about the succession of President Kagame.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Rwandan authorities to educate all security agencies on the new media laws to ensure that seizures like this no not happen in future and urges the government to hold to account any officials responsible for such seizures.

 

 

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