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Newspaper editor held on dubious rape charge

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to explain why Gérard M. Manzi, the editor of the privately-owned weekly "Umuseso", has been held since 22 August 2007 on a charge of raping an unidentified young girl despite having an alibi supported by many witnesses.

"The charges brought against Manzi are so improbable that it seems a crude attempt was made to frame him," the press freedom organisation said. "He has been held for the past week without being brought face-to-face with his accuser or shown the official report of her interrogation. Under the most basic rules of justice, suspects must be allowed the right to defend themselves. This is clearly not the case here."

Manzi was arrested at a bus station by police and employees of the private security company Agespro at around 10:00 p.m. (local time) on 22 August, as he was going home after a drink with friends at the Arada bar in Cachoeira, a district of Kigali. He was arrested with a young female minor who, to his concern, he had found alone in the bus station just seconds before.

Manzi was taken to the Remora police station where he was interrogated the next morning and accused of rape. He denied the charge and asked to be brought face-to-face with the young girl. The police said this was impossible because they no longer had any way of contacting the victim.

The police allege that Manzi spent the day with the young girl, who they say is a member of his family. In fact, Manzi spent the afternoon at the Amahoro stadium, where he went to cover a football match and was with many witnesses. He also denies any family kinship with the girl and insists he never saw her before.

The police have not yet questioned the witnesses who say Manzi spent the afternoon at the stadium and the evening in a bar. His lawyer planned to go to the prosecutor's office on 28 August to submit the signed statements of the witnesses. He also said he was "confident" that Manzi would be released soon.

"These are trumped-up charges," "Umuseso" publisher Charles Kabonero told Reporters Without Borders. "After failing to silence us by attacking us over our articles, the government is trying to discredit us by trapping us one by one in common-law criminal cases," he said.

One of Rwanda's few independent publications, "Umuseso" is known for being outspoken. The newspaper and its staff have been repeatedly harassed with threats and lawsuits by the authorities and several of its journalists have been forced to go into exile.

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