Scuffles between the police and journalists are becoming a daily occurrence, and this is not as it should be. Often the police harass journalists by arresting them and confiscating cameras, notebooks and other equipment while they are carrying out their duties. A duty is something you are supposed to do.
There are many documented cases where journalists have suffered such indignities and even loss of equipment.
We would like to believe, as has been sometimes apologetically explained by some senior police officers, that these are isolated cases of overzealous officers trying to earn their pay. We would like to point out that they are going about it the wrong way.
In the past week alone one of our photojournalists was threatened with arrest for wanting to take a photograph of a remand suspect who had been brought to court; and another was actually arrested and put in detention right at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters for taking a photograph of a suspect who was under investigation.
We have CID chief Costa Habyara to thank for speedily intervening; otherwise if the incident had taken place upcountry, the journalist would have spent the night inside cells – for only doing his job, and doing it quite legally.
We would like this police harassment of journalists to stop. These journalists have identity cards both from their places of work and from the High Council of the Press, authorising them to ply their trade inside Rwanda.
This is blatant undermining of everything Rwanda has tried to achieve; a society that is civil and a society that places responsibility for its actions on itself and each other.
While it has been said before that these are isolated incidents, this does not excuse them outright. Like in any business or society, there has to be a chain-of-command for responsibility.
Any one isolated incident can be prevented by proper training, oversight, and self-correction. A good boss will keep his men in line, and this is at the heart of what the current administration has fought so hard for.
Officers who harass the press only stoke the fires of criticism of government by those ever so quick to seize on negative material, so the police just play right into their hands.