KIGALI - The ongoing judicial process against Umuco newspaper and its proprietor has nothing to do with the feelings of President Paul Kagame, the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga has said. “People should keep the President out of this judicial process because he is not in any way connected to it. He could have been offended as an individual but the case itself is in line with the due process of the law,” Ngoga told The New Times yesterday in reference to a judicial process began by the Police into Umuco’s articles which, among others, allegedly defamed the Head of State. He was reacting to a statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which insinuated that the judicial proceedings had been opened because the President had been offended.
“We understand why these remarks were deeply offensive to President Kagame, but political leaders must tolerate even harsh criticism. The Government should not be bringing criminal action,” the CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon, said in a statement.
However, Ngoga, whose office is yet to receive a police report on the case, said police had taken up the case “just as any jurisdiction would in the event of such cases of breach of law.”
“It doesn’t need anybody to first gauge the feelings of the President; obviously I think the President was offended, but this did not form the basis for opening the criminal investigations. Any jurisdiction would do the same thing,” Ngoga clarified.
The case stems from four “defamatory and instigative” articles in the latest issue of Umuco newspaper, one of which suggested that President Kagame was stuck with four options namely committing suicide, running to exile, surrendering to the Hague-based International Criminal Court and lastly, clinging to power for the rest of his life, owing to the recent indictments against forty serving and former RDF officers by a Spanish judge for alleged human rights violations during and after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.
Police Spokesman Inspector Willy Marcel Higiro said Monday that the newspaper editor Bonaventure Bizumuremyi went into hiding after receiving police summons for what the officer called “defamation.”
Higiro said some articles contained in the Kinyarwanda paper’s March 12-27 edition contravened article 234 of the Penal Code, for which the accused risks, on conviction, between two to five years in prison. Higiro also refuted allegations that Bizumuremyi’s house was vandalized during a police search.
“That is not our mandate.” The New York-based media organization claimed Bizumuremyi had fled but did not indicate where he had fled to.
In a separate but related move, the High Council of the Press (HCP) has asked the Ministry of Information to recommend to “relevant authorities” a ban for a period of one year for Umuco, and urged law enforcers to bring Bizumuremyi and one Jason Mukasa – the author of the article likening Kagame to former German dictator and Holocaust mastermind Adolf Hitler – to justice.
Both the local media fraternity and the HCP say Jason Mukasa is just a pseudo name used by either somebody belonging to the country’s enemy forces or Bizumuremyi himself. There is no known journalist in Rwanda with that name.
The press council also withdrew a press card from Bizumuremyi for 12 months. In the other cited articles in the same publication, Umuco accused Gen. Jack Nziza of leading a clique that is responsible for “setting Kigali City ablaze”, an article branded “inflammatory” by the media fraternity.
Others include an article claiming that Rwanda is a lawless nation and an editorial alleging that the Kagame administration appoints Tutsi State Ministers to oversee the operations of their more senior Hutu Ministers.
The HCP’s action was in response to last week’s recommendations from Rwanda Media Ethics Commission (RMEC) urging the media regulatory body to seek the newspaper’s suspension and to withdraw the press card from Bizumuremyi, the paper’s proprietor.
The journalists’ auto-regulatory organ also vowed to file a separate lawsuit against Umuco and Bizumuremyi.