Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/4/2010 (4167 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BUTARE, Rwanda -- Press freedom is a particularly touchy subject with a tragic history in Rwanda, and Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean delved into it Thursday during a passionate debate in a packed auditorium.
It's a country where hate media incited genocidal mobs to slaughter their neighbours 16 years ago. Today, the government cracks down on news organizations in the name of national security.
International monitors accuse Rwanda's government of increasingly authoritarian behaviour with elections approaching, with a pair of anti-government newspapers having their licences suspended and an opposition leader being jailed in recent days.
Jean waded into that sensitive territory Thursday, defending press freedom to 700 university students in comments that bookended a lively debate on the subject between Canadian and Rwandan panellists.
"Free media is a fundamental human right," Jean said.
"It is one of those pivotal rights that is crucial to your realization of a host of other human rights in any society: freedom of expression, the right to democratic elections, even the right to a fair and public hearing."
Canada and Rwanda have both subscribed to those obligations through membership in the UN, la Francophonie, and the Commonwealth, she continued.
"It is incumbent on our governments to make sure they are all fully respected."
Sitting in the audience was Rwanda's foreign affairs minister.
Rwanda's government calls divisive speech unacceptable as it struggles to build a united country. Sixteen years after hate radio fuelled a genocide, any reference to Hutu or Tutsi clans is strongly discouraged. Remarks deemed a threat to national stability are treated as a criminal offence.
But Jean took a veiled swipe at the notion the 1994 atrocities might still be a reason to limit fundamental freedoms. She warned the audience against becoming "captive" to history.
"You have to move forward. We all have ghosts in our past that send a chill down our spine," Jean said.
"There is a responsibility of the profession as well, to exorcise the fear around us and move on."
The Rwandan government has suspended on a pair of newspapers -- one that published a picture of the president next to one of Adolf Hitler, and another that until several days ago was the most widely read weekly in the country.
That larger paper, Umuseso, would write sensational stories about political sex scandals and about divisions within the army, and allegedly used its editorial pages to warn of potential political violence. The paper would rely heavily on anonymous sources, which, its detractors allege, were occasionally invented.
President Paul Kagame expressed exasperation when the issue came up at a news conference this week with Canadian journalists, in the presence of Jean.
"Why do people keep talking (about this)?" Kagame said.
"You're talking about two (newspapers). But you have almost 20 independent privately owned radios -- FM radios and other radio. You have close to 70 papers. . .
However, international observers argue much of what's left of the country's media has deep ties to the government and is essentially subservient to it.
-- The Canadian Press