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Radio reporter freed after being held for 14 years on genocide charge

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has learned that Dominique Makeli, a former reporter with state-owned Radio Rwanda who had been held since 1994 on a vague, genocide-related charge, was released on 13 October 2008.

"This is excellent news and a great relief," Reporters Without Borders said. "Like fellow Radio Rwanda journalist Tatiana Mukakibibi, who was freed in November 2007 after 11 years in detention, Makeli has suffered an incredibly long ordeal during which he was unable to defend himself against slanderous allegations. We hope he will now be able to live peacefully, after these 14 years of isolation and injustice."

Makeli's release on 13 October was a result of his acquittal by a gacaca (popular tribunal) in the Kigali district of Nyarugenge on 5 October. Detained since 18 September 1994, he had been transferred from one detention centre to another, ending up in Kigali central prison, also known as "1930".

A public prosecutor told Reporters Without Borders in October 2001 that Makeli was accused of inciting genocide in his reports. While covering a supposed appearance of the Virgin in Kibeho, in the west of the country, in May 1994, Makeli reported that she was supposed to have said: "The parent is in heaven." The prosecutor insisted that, in the context of that moment, this was taken to mean, "President Habyarimana is in heaven" and was interpreted as a message of support for Habyarimana and, by extension, the policy of exterminating Tutsis. Both Makeli and many local independent observers disputed that interpretation.

During its visits to Rwanda, Reporters Without Borders met Makeli several times in prison. A very religious person whose health deteriorated steadily during his years in prison, he always insisted on his innocence. He was transferred to Arusha, Tanzania, in 2007 to appear as a witness before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and was returned to prison in Rwanda afterwards.

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