Under Threat

Rwandan online Journalist in exile assassinated


Photo: Charles Ingabire/CPJ 

Charles Ingabire, Rwandan online editor of Inyenyeri News was assassinated in Kampala, Uganda last Thursday. Charles, an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government, was shot at 2 am by unknown assailants reportedly riding in a 4x4 vehicle as he boarded a boda boda ride home. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

His laptop containing passwords toInyenyeri News website was stolen enabling his attackers access to the news portal and pull it offline for days before the owners managed to re-gain its control. 

“The Inyenyeri News management has no doubt about the identity and motives of Mr Ingabire’s assassins. We are aware of continuous threats he had received from member of the Rwandan government agents against his life. Recently he was attacked, beaten and sustained serious injuries which required two weeks of hospitalization,” states the official anouncement

An editorial at different site, rwandainfo.com, narrates developments leading to Mr Ingabire’s death. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemned the killing of the online journalist and called on the police to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. Urged Ugandan police to do their utmost to investigate the murder and ensure journalists can work freely without fear of reprisal in the country. 

In 2007, he left Kigali, Rwanda's capital, and began working as a correspondent for the critical online site Umuvugizi from Kampala. He started working for Inyenyeri last year, local journalists said. 

Critical journalists are not tolerated in Rwanda, CPJ research shows. Since April 2010, six journalists fearing intimidation and arrests have fled in exile, according to CPJ research. Two Rwandan journalists, Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi, currently face lengthy prison sentences for insulting President Paul Kagame along with other charges. 

Police recovered five casings of a sub-machine gun at the scene of the crime as well as Ingabire's cell phone, news reports said. The police also held for questioning two employees of the bar, since the journalist frequented the establishment, news reports said. 

This was not the first time Ingabire was attacked. Local journalists told CPJ that unknown assailants attacked the journalist two months ago in Kampala, took the laptop he was carrying, and demanded he shut down Inyenyeri

Ingabire is the second Rwandan journalist killed in less than two years, according to CPJ research. In June last year, former deputy editor of Umuvugizi, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was shot as he drove home in Kigali. Two suspects were convicted on homicide charges, but CPJ and local journalists expressed deep skepticism about the prosecution. 

East Africa relied on satellite Internet connectivity until recently. In early 2006 at a public meeting in Nairobi called upon leaders to prepare all of us for the societal transformation expected with upcoming widespread connectivity posing, “We soon expect to be connected with fibre optic cables and internet spreading throughout the country. But are politicians prepared for the change? When their rural constituents will no longer need to wait for their 'rural visits' to inform them what was going on in the capital city? That regardless of where a citizen lives, they will know not just what is happening in Nairobi, but in the country and indeed the whole world. And politicians' relevance will be much diminished.” 

Attacks on Freedom of Expression online have intensified in Africa following the 'Arab Spring' toppling of dictators. Sub-Saharan regimes afraid of the Internet's power to catalyse revolutions have embarked on targeting and assassinating succeeding online human rights activists. 

The global picture of online suppression is depressing. Global Voices Online monitors threats to online expression reported with an up-to-date mapping tool (snapshot of 7 December, 2011 below).


Courtesy: Global Voices Online (view current threats map)

Looking ahead, it would be far much easier if despots forgot long gone top-down, command and control era. Reformed early to fully embrace democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Maybe they could hang onto power for a short while longer, but hate to disappoint those imagining that they can to cling on to power fighting the Internet's bottom-up generative new power.