His Excellency President Paul Kagame
President of Rwanda
16 April 2010
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the suspension of two independent newspapers.
According to reports, on 13 April the Media High Council suspended the Kinyarwandan-language weeklies Umuseso and Umuvugizi for six months. The newspapers were accused of insulting the head of state, inciting the police and army to insubordination, and creating fear among the public. However, the Council made no reference to any specific article or report in its decision. Local lawyers have questioned the Council's powers to suspend the newspapers and Umuseso and Umuvugizi are likely to appeal.
We are seriously concerned that the six-month suspensions, coming five months ahead of the presidential elections, will not only prevent Umuseso and Umuvugizi from covering the elections but will also deter other media from critical reporting. Independent newspapers have come under increasing pressure in recent months. You recently told parliament that "newspapers that spread rumours will be closed". Three journalists were given jail sentences in February.
We respectfully remind you that suspending newspapers for critical reporting constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also contradicts the principles of the Declaration of Table Mountain, issued by our organisations at the 60th World Newspaper Congress and 14th World Editors Forum Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in June 2007.
We respectfully call on you to do everything possible to ensure that the Council's suspension of Umuseso and Umuvugizi is overturned. We also urge you to ensure that all media are able to carry out their vital democratic role of informing the public throughout the pre-election and election period.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
cc: Faith Pansy Tlakula, African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression