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Newspaper's perceived ties to neighbouring Uganda may have precipitated closure

(Media Institute/IFEX) - The Rwanda government on 6 June 2007 ordered the closure of the privately owned "Weekly Post" for unknown reasons.

A letter explaining the deregistration on the week-old newspaper by Information Minister Laurent Nkusi said: "After circumspect investigations of the information you had provided when you applied for the registration of an English newspaper, 'The Weekly Post', of the Rwanda Media Holdings Limited Company, I regret to inform you that the acknowledgement receipt No. 789/03.10 of 15 May 2007, which allowed you to publish the aforesaid newspaper, is from today, 6 June 2007, cancelled."

An acknowledgement receipt is issued before a newspaper is allowed to operate in Rwanda and "The Weekly Post" had received one on 2 May.

This newspaper was started by journalists who had been sacked or who resigned from the state-run "The New Times", the only newspaper in the country.

They include Sulah Nuwamanya, a former "New Times" editor in charge of upcountry news and the chief executive of the banned weekly publication printed in neighbouring Uganda by the government-owned "The New Vision".

Prof. Nkusi told MI correspondents on 11 June that, "at the moment there is no answer I can give for (the closure)."

The newspaper's CEO also confirmed to MI that he had not been given any reasons.

"We are sure there is no reason at all because we fully complied with the law," Nuwamanya said.

"Our company (Rwanda Media Holdings) is fully registered and has a commercial registration certificate from the Registrar of Companies. Among the activities of the company is the publication of the newspaper. Our statute is fully notified with a public notary," he added.

He said that after obtaining the commercial registration certificate and newspaper project proposal, "we fully applied to the Ministry of Information in the Prime Minister's Office, which, by press law, is the one supposed to register newspapers".

Among the requirements to run a newspaper in Rwanda is an application letter showing the editorial line and the initial capital, format, language, a company statute, a newspaper project proposal, and proof that the managing director and editor of the paper have never been imprisoned. The company had also submitted its profile.

The publication's application was processed within a week and an acknowledgement receipt from the ministry allowing "The Weekly Post" registration and operation issued.

Independent sources in Rwanda claimed the newspaper was closed because Rwandan authorities feared it was linked to neighboring Uganda, where the founders, thought to be Rwandese, originate. Relations between the two countries remain strained since the clash of their armies in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The High Council of the Press in Rwanda is responsible for regulating the media industry, though it does not register newspapers.

Freedom of the press in Rwanda has been precarious since the 1994 genocide in which an estimated one million people were killed.

The Media Institute is a freedom of expression organization based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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