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Government suspends BBC radio service for "unacceptable speech" in programme on genocide

(Media Institute/IFEX) - On 25 April 2009, the Rwandan government suspended the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) local-language radio service in the country saying it threatened the country's national reconciliation by hosting people with views negating the 1994 genocide.

A press statement released by Information Minister and government spokesperson Louise Mushikiwabo attibuted the closure of the BBC's Kinyarwanda service to "unacceptable speech" on the 1994 Rwanda genocide. She pointed out that the BBC's broadcasts, especially its local vernacular programme "Imvo n'Imvano" (Analysis of the Source of a Problem), had, despite repeated written and verbal protests from government, consistently showed total disregard for Rwanda's unity and reconciliation efforts.

"This action by government was prompted by one of their programme called 'Imvo n'Imvano' this Saturday morning which was previewed last night (24 April)," Mushikiwabo told the state radio.

The suspension followed the station's broadcast of a promotion of a forthcoming feature of its weekly program "Imvo n'Imvano" that was to include a debate on forgiveness among Rwandans after the genocide. The advance segment included comments by a former presidential candidate, Faustin Twagiramungu, opposing the government's attempt to have the country's entire Hutu population apologize for the genocide, since not all Hutu people had killed Tutsi or otherwise participated in the genocide. It also included a man of mixed Hutu-Tutsi ethnicity questioning why the government had refused to allow relatives of those killed by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) - led by President Paul Kagame that took over the country and stopped the genocide - to mourn for their loved ones.

The minister said she contacted the BBC on the issue expecting them to reconsider "after hearing from us, but the broadcaster took no heed, leaving the government with no option but to take decisive action to save millions of Rwandans from the past of genocide ideology."

"The divisive and disparaging nature of these programs as they stand today is no longer acceptable, in light of the hard-earned peaceful coexistence of the people of Rwanda over the last 15 years," the statement read, adding that the government can no longer stand anyone who tries to create the impression that there was double genocide (one by the Hutu and the other by the Tutsi-led RPF in a bid to end it) in 1994.

The 1994 genocide mainly targeting the minority Tutsis claimed about a million people in just 100 days. But critics of President Paul Kagame's government and his ruling RPF, especially those claiming to belong to the Hutu class in exile, have always contended that several Hutus were also killed in revenge by RPF soldiers during the 1994 mayhem. They assert that there were therefore two genocides, one of Tutsis by extreme Hutus and another by Tutsis, probably acting in revenge.

Rwanda has since banned the use of ethnic labels and established stringent laws against divisionism and "genocide ideology" - a reference to those who argue that the RPF is guilty of genocide too. Last year, the parliament passed a harsh anti-genocide law, and the current controversial media law is the latest of the government's measures to bury the ghost of genocide. For more information, see: http://www.eastafricapress.net

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