Jeremy Browne, Minister of Human Rights stated the following in response to the honoring of World Press Freedom Day,” Media freedom has the power to transform societies and to change the course of history. Over the past year, across the Middle East and North Africa, ordinary citizens found their voices using social media and blogs. But freedom of expression continues to be repressed in many countries and some have seen a significant decline in media freedoms. Around the world, journalists, bloggers and others have been obstructed from doing their work by being harassed, monitored, detained, or subjected to violence.”
One journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous stated, “I have hope that Rwandans will one day enjoy a free and independent press. It may take time (years), but history shows that a struggle for a free and independent press is not done in vain. I pity those who invest in persecuting journalists or people as a way of entrenching themselves in power. In persecuting and silencing others, you eventually pay a much heavier price.”
The Rwandan Journalists in exile have organized themselves into The Rwanda Journalists Association in Exile and have published the following press release in regards to the situation they are facing:
Rwanda Journalists’ Association in Exile
Today, the 3rd of May 2012, is world press freedom day. As we celebrate this day, we the Rwandan journalists’ in exile, are happy for the accomplishments that the media has achieved in promoting democracy in different countries around the world, and for being a voice to the voiceless.
We are happy for the tremendous change in internet technology which has simplified the flow of information.
As the theme of this year says, “Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”, we find it very difficult in Rwanda to have transformation as long as the current regime continues to oppress the media.
The Rwandan government has closed all independent newspapers; it has threatened, intimidated and forcing them to flee their country while others have decided to change their editorial lines as the only way to be safe.
The Journalists’ Associations in Rwanda are led by people nominated by the ruling party in order to control the freedom of the media through their own associations’ leadership.
Repugnant laws were put in place as a tool to silence all critical media voices since the RPF regime led by President Paul Kagame got in power in 1994.
On this day, as we celebrate freedom day, it’s an opportunity to remember our comrades Jean Leonard Rugambage and Charles Ingabire (May their souls Rest in Peace) who were both killed because of their critical journalistic work of the government of Rwanda.
We condemn the statement made by President Paul Kagame while addressing journalists in Kampala in December last year after the death of Ingabire Charles, where he said that Ingabire was a criminal. We know that Ingabire has never been convicted of any by any Rwandan court of justice nor had any charges ever been brought against him.
We are greatly concerned by the lives of the two Rwandan female journalists who are in prison for simply expressing themselves in their Newspaper Umurabyo. Those are Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Mukakibibi Saidat who were sentenced to 4 and 3 years of imprisonment respectively.
Many Newspapers and Radios have recently been started, but we do not find this as a sign of freedom of press as the Rwandan Government always has a say in what is reported because all these newspapers and Radios stations work for the ruling party who determines their editorial line.
Freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of speech are fundamental rights which have been a dream for many years among the citizens of Rwandan since the RPF regime took power.
Because of the above mentioned problems in Rwanda, we call upon the International community to put pressure on the Rwandan Government ruled by Paul Kagame, to stop all media oppression as soon as possible.
Done in Sweden on 3rd May 2012
Tharcisse SEMANA, journal UMUSESO
Nelson Gatsimbazi, journal UMUSINGI
Macdowell Kalisa, Journal UMUSESO
Amiel Nkuriza, Journal LE PARTISAN
Robert Sebufirira, Journal UMUSESO
Uwigenga Christian, CFM
Didas Gasana, Journal UMUSESO
Furaha Mugisha, Journal UMUSESO
Lucie Umukundwa, VOA Radio
While these concerns appear to go unheard in Rwanda they are heard around the world by organizations that care for the wellbeing of these freedom fighters. A press that is dictated or silenced by the government is not a free and informative press. This style of media only serves to misinform the public and does not uphold the right to freedom of expression. It is a basic human right to have access to knowledge of what is going on in one’s country and the world around them but without a free and responsible press the country remains at the mercy of what the media is allowed to speak about.
World Press Freedom Day serves as a reminder to professionals of their responsibility to society, and of the importance of maintaining professional ethics. It is a day of support for media which are targets for the censorship, or abolition of press freedom. And it is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession (VOA).