KIGALI - Police yesterday revealed that the three people from a local tabloid, Umurabyo, were arrested on “individual criminal charges” and warned that the arrests should not be related to elections or seen as a case of the state persecuting journalists.
Addressing a joint press conference with the Ministry of Information and the Media High Council (MHC), Police Spokesperson, Eric Kayiranga, said that it is the duty of the police to apprehend anyone suspected of breaching the country’s laws and threatening state security.
Kayiranga said that there is documented evidence that Agnes Nkusi Uwimana, the editor of the controversial tabloid who was arrested last week, and her co-worker Saidath Mukakibibi as well as the graphic designer, Patrick Kambale, deliberately collaborated to publish material that was aimed at inciting the public.
The editor of the Kinyarwanda bi-monthly tabloid was arrested on Friday on charges related to sedition, publishing material defamatory to the person of the President, inciting public disorder, ethnic "divisionism" as well promoting the genocide ideology.
Mukakibibi, who according to the MHC is not a registered journalist, and Kambale, the graphic designer who designed the photo of the President against a background Nazi Swastika symbols portraying him as “Hitler”, were arrested on Monday.
It was however revealed at the press conference that Kambale had since been released after he explained that he designed the paper according to the specifications given by his boss, Uwimana, but he will continue to report to police to assist with investigations.
“Article 14 of the law that establishes the police force states that the force has a mandate to ensure that the country’s laws are enforced. We want to be clear on this. Police has the powers to prevent, investigate or press charges on anyone suspected of breaking the country’s laws,”
“The arrest of the trio came after it became evident that through their publications in issues nos. 21, 23, 28 and 29 of Umurabyo newspaper, that they had had committed serious criminal offences that breached several laws, and hence the need to detain them,” Kayiranga said.
He added that it is clear that through their publication, that the writers had intentions of inciting violence in the public through malicious propaganda, an act punishable by article 166 of the penal code.
According to the Police, the publications also deliberately promoted discrimination, sectarianism and Genocide denial, also punishable by law,
The Police Spokesperson added that Uwimana and her accomplices published misleading articles projecting divisions in the country’s armed forces, an act which also threatens the country’s security.
Uwimana and her colleagues could face up to 30 years in prison on conviction.
In yet another twist, it was revealed that Mukakibibi is a secretary to the embattled leader of the unregistered political FDU-Inkingi, Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire.
Mukakibibi is accused of publishing sectarian articles in the tabloid that amount to promoting ethnic divisionism and genocide ideology.
Reacting to growing reports in the international press accusing Rwanda of persecuting journalists, the Executive Secretary of MHC, Patrice Mulama, and the Director General in the Ministry of Information, Ignatius Kabagambe, said that it is unfortunate that the reports link the incident to the period, of elections and an accusing finger being pointed at the government.
The officials said that the reports ignore the fact that Uwimana, on May 27, acknowledged the anomalies in her publications and agreed to change the content, a promise she did not live up to.
“There is no reason whatsoever to connect this incident to the period of elections because even when you look back in 2007, Uwimana was convicted sentence to two years in prison for almost the same charges.
“A year later, she was pardoned after she pleaded for leniency and acknowledged her mistakes. Did we have elections then?” Mulama wondered.
Kabagambe accused international watchdogs such a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders of rushing into conclusions by pointing an accusing finger on the government without considering facts of the ground.
The officials reassured journalists that their security was guaranteed.