The Presidential Advisor on Security matters, Brig. Gen. Dr. Richard Rutatina, yesterday said that he was quoted out of context in the ongoing row over the comments he made on local journalist Nelson Gatsimbazi.
Appearing before the Rwanda Editors Forum (REFO), the organization that brings together editors in the country, Rutatina emphasized that he never said that Gatsimbazi works with “negative forces” and neither did he suggest that Gatsimbazi was an “enemy of the state.”
In what he says are sensational or alarmist claims, Gen Rutatina said that Gatsimbazi was fast to inform police, embassies and even write to the President alleging that his life was threatened following his (Rutatina’s) revelations that Gatsimbazi works with some “foreign agents” to push for some unknown interests.
The row stemmed from the December 14 Civil Society Public Dialogue on Political Space and Human Rights which was held in Kigali, during which Rutatina accused Gatsimbazi, the Editor of local tabloid Umusingi, of receiving funds from “foreign agents” who influence what he publishes, yet he claims to be independent.
Rutatina, who was responding to Gatsimbazi who had previously spoken during the dialogue, said that Gatsimbazi was not “independent” as he claims and that government was aware of his connection to exiled journalist Charles Kabonero and Jean Bosco Gasasira, who allegedly pay him and influence his publication.
During the meeting, Gatsimbazi accused the government of frustrating press freedom, citing the banning of controversial tabloids Umuseso and Umuvugizi as well as the murder of journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage as examples.
Gatsimbazi also accused the government of trampling on political and human rights by detaining people without trial, citing Victoire Ingabire and detained army officers.
Reacting to Gatsimbazi’s accusations, Gen. Rutatina accused the journalist of abusing the same freedom of press he claims is not there to do whatever he does by associating and allowing to be influenced by “foreign agents”, particularly the exiled journalists.
Gen. Rutatina insisted that he will not change his position on Gatsimbazi, adding that he has never said anything that threatens the life of the journalist, but maintained that Gatsimbazi “is a misguided journalist who gets foreign funding to spread lies and represent interests of foreign agents”.
“You are misguided, but that doesn’t make you an enemy of the state, and we believe that you can be brought back into the right direction.
Journalists don’t have one-way freedom. If you criticize the government, the government also has the right to point out where you get it wrong, and when we do so, it is not sacrilege,” Rutatina said.
Reacting to Gatsimbazi’s publications on detained army officers, Gen. Rutatina said that the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) will maintain its stance of ensuring high level of discipline and will not “let loose” because papers like Umusingi will publish stories, adding that discipline is “taught and institutionalized”.
On his part, Gatsimbazi said that Gen. Rutatina’s remarks have had an impact on his life, with the society labeling him an “enemy of the state” and clients shunning his paper because it is “anti-state”.
He said that he was left “isolated” by Gen. Rutatina’s remarks and that he was thrown out of the house as a result of the General’s remarks.
Gatsimbazi denied receiving funding of any sort.
Gen. Rutatina assured him of security and that he would not meet any hindrances on his duties, adding that even prior to that, there was nothing to show that his life was under threat.
REFO observed that Gatsimbazi, even though there were genuine concerns, should have not disregarded other levels where the issue would have been handled like the forum itself, the Media High Council (MHC) or the Association of Rwandan Journalists (ARJ) before addressing it with embassies and foreign organizations.
During the meeting, it was agreed that the media should operate with high levels of professionalism by reporting objectively and considering national interests while the government has the obligation of observing press freedoms.
It was also agreed that the media blew the incident out of proportion by sensationalizing it. It was resolved that dialogues be organized to discuss media rights and national interests.