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Tabloid accused of defaming government officials

(Media Institute/IFEX) - December 15, 2009 - Only days after a Rwandan newspaper filed an appeal against a conviction for defamation over a sex story implicating public figures, another paper is being targetted over a similar story. The weekly "Umuseso" has been dragged to court and to the Media Council for allegedly defaming Minister of Cabinet Affairs Protais Musoni and Kigali Mayor Aisa Kirabo Kakira. Media Institute (MI) has learned that the High Council of the Media (HCM) wants the controversial weekly to reveal the sources of a damning story detailing an extra-marital relationship between the two officials.

In November 2009, Jean Bosco Gasasira, the editor of another tabloid, "Umuvugizi", was found guilty of defaming the country's Deputy Prosecutor Jean Bosco Mutangana in a lengthy article detailing a complicated extramarital relationship. He was fined US$5,720.

In the case of "Umuseso", Minister Musoni, who was transferred a few months ago from the Ministry of Local Government, wrote to the Council in late November claiming his alleged affair with Mayor Kakira was a fabrication aimed at defaming him. The letter was also copied to the Minister of Information.

Ironically, the Minister of Information is yet to be appointed since the last cabinet reshuffle saw fire-spitting Louise Mushikiwabo transferred to Foreign Affairs. Currently, Musoni is the one overseeing the ministry.

According to a letter from the Media Council, the "Umuseso" management was asked to give details about the story published on 16 November in Issue 382. In a later edition, the tabloid revealed how Deputy Editor Didas Gasana was interrogated by officials from the National Prosecuting Authority on 8 December.

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The Prosecutions Authority says it intends to file a case against the tabloid for defaming senior government officials - but does not name them.

Sources have told MI that the two top politicians are fully behind the court case and they prefer to act behind the scenes to avoid any backlash from media watchdogs.

Investigators have apparently indicated that by mentioning President Kagame in the story, the authors intended to propagate the view that Kagame gives directives to anybody disregarding the law.

According to Gasana, he was interrogated for more than six hours at the Prosecutions office in Kacyiru, where an investigating officer indicated to him that he would be detained at a police station. The detention did not take place as the official said he had received other orders from "above" to release Gasana.

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