In a decision that appalled press freedom groups, a prominent Rwandan exiled journalist was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for insulting President Paul Kagame in the online version of his newspaper Umuugizi.
The judgment against Jean Bosco Gasasira was just handed down by the Rwandan Supreme Court.
Gasasira was acquitted by a lower court in September but the prosecutor appealed against the acquittal and asked for a 10-year sentence. Media watchdog Reporters without Borders condemned the harsh prison term. Gasasira has no right of appeal.
“Media freedom is Rwanda is extremely fragile and the government is trying to snuff out free and independent media outlets,” wrote the reporters’ group in a published statement.
Gasasira told Reporters without Borders he would not be intimidated by court’s ruling. “The government wants to mess up my life and stop me working, but the ruling is a desperate move by longtime predators of the media.” He would risk arrest if he returned to Rwanda.
Gasasira has been threatened many times, beaten up in 2007, censored and hunted inside the country. He said his paper’s website has been hacked into in recent days and a bogus version, probably put together by government supporters, has appeared (http://umuvugizi.wordpress.com/).
Gasasira says this would allow the government to see who reads the paper online and to post false news.
President Kagame is on the annual Reporters without Borders worldwide list of predators of press freedom.
Two women journalists are currently detained in Rwanda. They are Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, who was sentenced on 4 February to 17 years in prison, and Saidath Mukakibibi, one of her reporters, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in the same case.