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Rwandan parliament calls for BBC to be banned

This article was originally published on rsf.org on 24 October 2014.

The Rwandan parliament passed a resolution on 22 October calling on the government to ban the BBC and bring “genocide denial” charges against the presenter and producer of a controversial TV documentary about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that the BBC broadcast in early October.

The vote came a few days after President Paul Kagame himself accused the BBC of “denying the genocide” of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by members of the Hutu majority.

“This parliamentary resolution is not surprising inasmuch as the Kagame government allows the political opposition no room to exist in Rwanda,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“It is extremely worrying that the BBC, one of the few independent media that manages to be seen or heard within Rwanda, is in the process of being banned. We call on the government to implement the democratic principles it so readily professes in international forums and to let the media express themselves freely.”

Members of student organizations consisting mainly of genocide survivors staged demonstrations outside the BBC's Kigali bureau and parliament a few hours before the resolution's adoption and handed in a memorandum calling on the government to rescind the BBC's licence to broadcast in Rwanda. They also demanded a formal BBC apology to the Rwandan people and the entire world.

Entitled “Rwanda, The Untold Story,” the documentary caused a storm by interviewing US-based researchers who, with the help of maps, argued that the number of Hutus killed in the genocide was much higher than generally recognized. The Rwandan government declined the BBC's requests to be interviewed for the documentary.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered from April to July 1994.

The Kagame government has a history of refusing to comment on the human rights situation and imposing extreme censorship on freedom of information.

At least five journalists have fled the country this year because of persecution, and several were arrested and threatened by the police before and after ceremonies in April marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Good Morning Rwanda, Flash FM's popular phone-in programme, was banned in June. The US State Department condemned all of these developments.

An official denial of the claims made in the documentary was posted on the Rwandan government website but is no longer available online.

In 2009, the Rwandan government suspended the BBC's radio broadcasts in Kynyarwanda because of a programme about the genocide that was also described at the time as revisionist.

Any formal reference to ethnicity is punishable by imprisonment on a charge of promoting “divisions.” Over the years, the term “Rwandan genocide” has gradually been replaced by “genocide of the Tutsis,” thereby pre-empting any questioning of the official history.

Rwanda is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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