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Call for 33-year jail term for journalist alarms world's press

(WAN-IFRA) - Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, 19 January 2011 - The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have written to Rwandan President Paul Kagame to express serious concern over the lengthy prison sentences requested by state prosecutors in a High Court hearing against two journalists.

Prosecutors at the Kigali court requested 33 years' imprisonment for Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly Umurabyo, and 12 years for reporter Saidath Mukakibibi. Fines have also been levied against the pair, with a final verdict due on 4 February.

The journalists, who have already spent six months in pre-trial detention, are being tried on a range of charges including genocide denial, inciting public disorder, insulting the president and spreading false rumours. Their arrest in July for publishing opinion pieces falls within a pattern of newspaper closures and the jailing and murder of journalists ahead of last year's presidential elections.

"While not condoning any shortcomings in the journalists' professionalism in preparing the articles,­ failings which Ms Uwimana Nkusi has admitted, ­we are concerned that the government is using the 'genocide ideology' law to suppress the free expression of opinions," WAN-IFRA and WEF said in the letter.

International media and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly criticised the use of "genocide ideology" law to suppress the free expression of opinions. Charges such as defamation or insulting the president are often inflated to "genocide denial" or "inciting public disorder" that carry lengthy prison terms.

In its letter to President Kagame and in the context of the Declaration of Table Mountain, WAN-IFRA's Africa-wide campaign to repeal criminal defamation, the organisations called on the Rwandan leader to take all necessary steps to ensure the immediate release of Ms Uwimana Nkusi and Mr Mukakibibi and to halt the intimidation of critical media "so that the press is able to report free from government pressure."

To read the full letter, click here

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