Prosecution drops charges against newspaper editors

MEDIA - The office of the Prosecutor General has pulled out of lawsuits against two editors of a local media group. The prosecution says it’s no longer interested in pursuing two defamation cases leveled against the managing director/chief editor of Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG) newspapers, Charles Kabonero and Didas Gasana, who is the managing director of Newsline.
Prosecution Spokesman, Bosco Mutangana
Prosecution Spokesman, Bosco Mutangana

MEDIA - The office of the Prosecutor General has pulled out of lawsuits against two editors of a local media group. The prosecution says it’s no longer interested in pursuing two defamation cases leveled against the managing director/chief editor of Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG) newspapers, Charles Kabonero and Didas Gasana, who is the managing director of Newsline.

RIMEG is the parent company of weeklies Newsline, Umuseso and Rwanda Champion, a sports and entertainment tabloid.

The Nyarugenge Lower Instance Court had earlier this week served summons to the two journalists in connection with charges allegedly committed between 2003 and 2007.

Kabonero’s alleged defamation case relates to a 2003 lawsuit filed by the then prosecutor general Gerald Gahima, in which the latter also sought compensation from the defendant. The other case was filed by city businessman Tilbert Rujugiro about two months ago against both Kabonero and Gasana, over a story concerning the former’s alleged tax evasion in South Africa.

However, Prosecution Spokesman, Bosco Mutangana, said that the institution had written to the court indicating that it was no longer interested in pursuing the two cases, although the plaintiffs retained their right to continue with the cases without the prosecution on their side.

“The Prosecution has the right to prefer or not to prefer charges against anyone, and in this case we have decided not to prefer the charges. However, the party that feels it was prejudiced, has a right to go on with the case,” he said.

Mutangana said that Gahima had left the country, and that the prosecution was not sure whether the former prosecutor general was still interested in the case. “He is not in the country, and we don’t even have his current address,” he said.

Gahima left the country about three years ago, and is presently reported to be in the US.
“As for Rujugira, he can go ahead and deal with the court directly without ourselves involved,” Mutangana added.

A source that preferred anonymity said the prosecution had found no sufficient evidence against the two journalists.

According to the court summons, Kabonero is due to appear before Nyarugenge Lower Instance Court on October 9 over Gahima’s case, while he and Gasana are supposed to return to the same court on October 11.

Mutangana however said the cases should not have been linked to journalism in the first place, since the two editors had committed the alleged crimes as individuals.

However, the prosecution says it will go ahead to prosecute RIMEG’s deputy managing director, Furaha Mugisha, on two separate counts. Mugisha is accused of using doctored documents to acquire a Rwandan passport and issuing a bounced cheque.

The Immigration Department filed a case arguing that Mugisha was a Tanzanian, who only forged his way to obtain a Rwandan passport.

“Prosecution has facts showing that he is not a Rwandan. That is an individual criminal responsibility, which is not related to his work at all. There are other people with similar charges,” the prosecution spokesman said.

“On issuance of bounced cheque, it is something for which we also have proof. We shall adduce the evidence before court, and if he (Mugisha) convinces court that he is innocent, he will be a free man and we shall have lost the case,” he added.

He blamed some international media outlets which he said have continuously linked the two cases to Mugisha’s journalistic work.

“Some people want to cover up crimes committed by journalists by relating them to their job. That is absolutely nonsense. A journalist is a person like others, and therefore liable for criminal offences as the law provides,” he went on.

Furaha appeared before the court on Thursday, but requested for ample time to prepare his defence. The case was rescheduled for November 7.
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