ARUSHA - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) yesterday reduced the jail terms of three Rwandan journalists convicted of fanning the 1994 Genocide by inciting Hutu extremists to slaughter Tutsis.
The Tanzania-based UN court in 2003 handed defendants Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze life imprisonment sentences while a third man, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, got 35 years.
“There have been some reversals,” said Timothy Gallimore, spokesman of the Tanzanian-based ICTR, without explaining why the sentences had been cut back.
Nahimana’s and Ngeze’s sentences were shortened to 30 and 35 years respectively while Barayagwiza got his reduced by three years, Gallimore said.
Nahimana and Barayagwiza were founding members of Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) while Ngeze owned the Kangura, an extremist Hutu newspaper.
RTLM, established in April 1993, became known as “hate radio” and many of its journalists were accused of preaching ethnic hatred and encouraging Hutus, who make up about 85 percent of the population, to massacre Tutsis.
The ICTR is prosecuting the leaders of the Genocide in which an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in one of the worst bouts to bloodletting in Africa’s history.
The time of the accused have so far spent in the ICTR detention will be deducted from their respective sentences.
This means that Nahimana and Barayagwiza, who were both arrested in 1996, would serve a 19 and 21 years, respectively, in prison, whereas Ngeze – who was apprehended in 1997 – will stay in prison for the next 25 years.
The decision has however sparked off discontent in Kigali. Justice minister Tharcise Karugarama said: “We respect the verdict rendered by the court that exercised its jurisdiction but we feel that these people deserved to get life imprisonment.”
“The trial chamber that made the first sentence had competence to give them the sentences that they saw befitting and the appeals chamber had its reasons to review it…they all exercised their jurisdictions,” Karugarama, who is also the Attorney General, added.
The President of the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ), Gaspard Safari, said that the sentences would teach a lesson to local journalists who might be harbouring any ideologies driving at divisionism.
“Despite the fact that we have not gone to the extent of what the accused did, some of our journalists have published articles that could drive towards this and I feel this would serve as a lesson,” Safari said yesterday.
He however added that the journalists’ sentences should have been tougher considering their role in the Genocide.