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Fears of repression resurface after journalist goes missing

(MI/IFEX) - Fear has gripped independent journalists in Rwanda amidst reports that one reporter has gone missing.

The disappearance of Godwin Agaba, who has not filed any stories with the Ugandan news agency, http://256news.com , for two weeks, comes amid claims by security agencies linking more journalists to acts of terrorism.

The news agency has placed an alert indicating the reporter's possible arrest or disappearance. Agaba's associate in Kigali, "Umuvugizi" newspaper editor Jean Bosco Gasasira, also expressed worry about his security.

Police Spokesman Sup. Eric Kayiranga told the Media Institute's Rwanda researcher that he only read about Agaba on 256news.com and denied that the journalist was being held in a police cell in the country.

"I only read about him on the 256news.com website but have not received any information about his arrest. Maybe if you could help police trace him, that would be very good," Kayiranga said.

256news.com had reported that their correspondent in Kigali was missing, saying he could have been arrested on President Paul Kagame's orders.

Kagame had said in his March 3, 2010 press conference that the government had information about journalists working with those opposed to him. He was commenting on former army commander Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fled the country, and other journalists who had connections with Nyamwasa, and former celebrated spy chief Colonel Patrick Karegeya. They are all now in exile in South Africa.

Two days later, on March 5, a publisher and former president of the Rwanda Journalists Association, Deo Mushayidi, was arrested in Burundi and deported to Kigali over alleged connections in the recent grenade attacks that killed two people and injured scores in the Rwandan capital.

Gasasira told MI that he knew Agaba had been used on several occasions in controversial reporting even against his fellow journalists.

Before joining "Umuvugizi", Agaba worked with "Umuseso", which the government considers as a "negative" publication because of its critical reporting. Like many of the reporters at "Umuseso", Agaba is known for digging into what other journalists consider no-go areas.

He fearlessly uncovered public funds swindlers and corrupt leaders. That, however, did not stop the ruling party's daily, "The New Times", from hiring him in 2006 as an investigative and political reporter. But that did not last long.

Known for his investigative skills, he was seen more as a spy than a journalist and very few people trusted him. His editors expected hot stories about corrupt government officials or private businessmen in tendering scams. After a falling out with his employers, the same kinds of assignments landed him in a scandal that led to his imprisonment.

Similarly to what has happened to other journalists, Agaba was set up and police reportedly "caught him red-handed" receiving a bribe, in what was generally viewed as an attempt to prevent him from publishing damaging information about a businessman. He was charged with corruption and sent to prison. According to Gasasira, the plot was planned by Agaba's employers and the police to end his journalism career.

After completing a prison sentence in Kigali Central Prison in 2009, Agaba hit the road again with Gasasira's "Umuvugizi" and the regional news agency 256news.com.

Gasasira said he had received information from security operatives indicating accusations that Agaba was a national security threat.

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