(New York) – The Ugandan authorities should open an effective and transparent investigation into the murder of a Rwandan journalist on November 30, 2011, and identify and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The Ugandan government should also provide protection for Rwandan journalists and other critics of the Rwandan government who are living in Uganda, Human Rights Watch said.
Charles Ingabire, editor of the online publication Inyenyeri News and a vocal critic of the Rwandan government, was shot twice in the chest as he was leaving a bar in the Bukesa-Kikoni Makerere area of Kampala late at night. Friends told Human Rights Watch that he frequently went to that bar and had gone there that evening to meet some friends.
A spokesman for the Ugandan police told the media that the police had opened an investigation into Ingabire's death and that two people were being held for questioning.
“The persecution of government critics can reach beyond Rwanda’s borders,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We fear for the safety of other exiled journalists and government opponents in the aftermath of Ingabire's murder.”
The Ugandan police should explore every lead in the search for Ingabire's killers and intensify protective measures for other Rwandan refugees, Human Rights Watch said.
Ingabire, who was 31 years old, was a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He had worked as a journalist in Rwanda, but left in 2007 and obtained refugee status in Uganda. While in Uganda, he contributed to Umuvugizi newspaper, one of Rwanda’s most outspoken publications.
Umuvugiziwas suspended in 2010 by the Media High Council, a Rwandan government-controlled institution. Jean-Léonard Rugambage, another Umuvugizi journalist, was murdered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in June 2010. Its editor, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, fled Rwanda in 2010 after numerous threats to his safety.
After the suspension of Umuvugizi, Ingabire became the editor of an online newspaper, Inyenyeri News, which often published articles critical of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and of the Rwandan government and army. Within a short time, the website appeared to have been infiltrated, and its contents suddenly changed, portraying the government in a favorable light. Ingabire's friends said they suspected it had been taken over by elements close to the government. Ingabire and his colleagues moved Inyenyeri News to a new web location and it resumed its critical reporting.
Ingabire confided to friends that he had been threatened several times in the months leading up to his death, they told Human Rights Watch. About two months before his murder, he was attacked and beaten in Kampala, and his computer stolen. The assailants – whom he did not recognize – told him they wanted him to close down his website. He also received anonymous telephone death threats warning him to stop writing articles critical of the government.
While it is too early to draw conclusions about the motive for Ingabire's murder, his death takes place in the context of a well documented pattern of repression of independent journalists, opposition party members, and civil society activists in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said. Several journalists, critics, and opponents of the government in Rwanda have been arrested and detained or prosecuted in 2010 and 2011, and others outside the country have been threatened repeatedly.
Rwandans living in Uganda are at particular risk, given the geographical proximity and close links between the two countries, Human Rights Watch said. Rwandan refugees in Kampala frequently report being threatened and followed by people they believe are Rwandan intelligence agents.
Attacks on opponents and critics have also taken place further afield. In June 2010, General Kayumba Nyamwasa narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in South Africa. Nyamwasa is a former chief-of-staff of the Rwandan army and was once a close ally of Kagame, but is now an outspoken government opponent in exile. In May, two Rwandans living in the UK were warned by the London Metropolitan Police that there were threats to their safety emanating from the Rwandan government.
“The Rwandan government frequently states its commitment to democracy and free speech,” Bekele said, “but such statements are hollow when critics are threatened and attacked. The Rwandan judicial authorities should cooperate fully with their Ugandan counterparts in unearthing the truth about Ingabire’s murder.”