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Women journalists get 17, seven years in jail

Saidath Mukakibibi and Agnès Uwimana Nkusi of
Saidath Mukakibibi and Agnès Uwimana Nkusi of "Umurabyo"

They weren't the ridiculously long sentences that prosecutors were looking for, but last week two women journalists in Rwanda were sentenced to 17 years and seven years respectively for inciting disobedience, causing divisions and denying the 1994 genocide, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, the editor of the privately-owned bimonthly "Umurabyo", and Saidath Mukakibibi, a reporter at "Umurabyo", were sentenced on 4 February. They had been detained since 8 July 2010 for a series of opinion pieces - some of which claimed that there were growing divisions within the army, and that Hutu victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide deserved justice, reports CPJ. One column was accompanied by a photo of President Paul Kagame with a Nazi swastika superimposed in the background.

Prosecutors had originally requested a 33-year sentence for Nkusi and 12 years for Mukakibibi, report the IFEX members.

"We are concerned that the government is using the 'genocide ideology' law to suppress the free expression of opinions," the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) said in an appeal letter to Kagame to immediately release the journalists.

Charges such as defamation or insulting the president are often inflated to "genocide denial" or "inciting public disorder" that carry lengthy prison terms, says WAN-IFRA. For several years, WAN-IFRA has been fighting to repeal criminal defamation across Africa under its Declaration of Table Mountain campaign.

Last month in Rwanda's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), an evaluation of the country's human rights record by members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Rwandan delegation agreed to reform the key laws that violate international standards of free expression, such as the genocide ideology law, reports ARTICLE 19.

According to the members, the journalists' arrests fell within a pattern of newspaper closures and the jailing and murder of journalists ahead of the 2010 presidential elections. "Umurabyo", which ceased publication after the arrests, came to prominence after two other private weeklies, "Umuseso" and "Umuvugizi", were banned, reports CPJ.

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