Rwanda: victory in round one, but game not yet over
In January the international criminal law specialist, John Jones, appeared with MLDI’s in-house lawyer, Nani Jansen, before the Rwanda Supreme Court in Kigali. Their brief: to support local lawyers in an appeal by two journalists sentenced to prison for articles they had written.
It was not a wasted journey. The court reduced the sentences respectively from 17 years to four and seven to three. But MLDI, which has funded the journalists’ defence throughout, continues to work on their release.
“We are naturally pleased that the court has reduced the sentences,” says Nani Jansen, “but the charges remain. Our aim is to have them dropped, with the court acknowledging the injustice of using the law in this oppressive way.”
The journalists – Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi – were convicted in February 2010 on charges of endangering national security, insulting the president and “divisionism” in a series of articles published in their journal, Umurabyo. In these they criticised President Kagame’s employment and agricultural policies and questioned why he continued to work with officials who had been involved in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
In the past two years or so MLDI has assisted in five other cases against Rwandan journalists, though this is the first time one has reached the Supreme Court. Lower courts have consistently ruled against journalists and many have fled the country, though even then they may not be safe; last December an exiled journalist was shot dead in mysterious circumstances in Kampala.
Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi arriving at court