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Rwanda: Murder of Rwandan Online Journalist Lights up the Internet

Charles Ingabire, an online Rwandan journalist and genocide survivor, is the latest victim in a series of bloody attacks targeting Rwandan journalists. Ingabire was killed in apparent execution style outside a Kampala bar on Sunday, November 30, 2011.

The attackers who were  reportedly traveling in a Pajero immediately slipped away. A Ugandan police official at the crime scene stated that the victim's body had two bullet wounds (shot through his neck) and that five cartridges of a sub-machine gun were found at the crime scene.

Charles Ingabire was the editor of the Kinyarwanda-language news website Inyenyeri News.

Another journalist, Charles Rugambgage, was murdered in June 2010 in Rwanda. The car he was traveling in got sprayed with bullets as he approached his home in Kigali. According to Umuvugizi, arguably the most critical newspaper in Rwanda (now operating online after being banned), the gunman who was sentenced to ten years in jail has since been released, having served less than a year.

Rwandan online journalist Charles Ingabire. Photo courtesy of umuvugizi.com.

Rwandan online journalist Charles Ingabire. Photo courtesy of umuvugizi.com.

While the motive of Ingabire's murder is yet to be determined, it is well established that he had been a fierce critic of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame's regime. On its part, Rwanda has denied any responsibility stating that the journalist was not a well-known critic. However, several pieces published published by Ingabire were highly critical of the government.

Just before his murder, he had released an article implicating the First Lady, Janet Kagame, of corruption. In particular, the report accused the government of unfairly issuing tenders to companies linked to the First Lady. Some of the companies mentioned are Fair Construction, which reportedly gave kickbacks to Mrs. Kagame and a British company (name not mentioned) associated with former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

In the report, published a few days before his murder, he stated:

Ubutegetsi bwa Kagame bukunze kwigaragaza nk’ubutegetsi burwanya ruswa mu Rwanda, ndetse bukabyamamaza mu rwego rwo kwivuga ibigwi, ariko ibi byose ababyemera n’uko baba batazi ukuri ku isahurwa ry’umutungo wa leta ukorwa na perezida Kagame afatanyije n’umuryango we cyane umufasha we Jeanette Kagame.

Kagame's leadership likes to boasts as one that fights corruption in Rwanda, even to the extent of getting acclaimed. Those who believe this are naive about the embezzlement involving Kagame and his family, particularly his wife Jeanette.

Several organizations and exiled political parties have issued statements condemning the murder and calling for proper investigations. FDU Inkingi, the party of exiled politician Victoire Ingabire, released a statement saying:

The circumstances of his death show that he lost his precious life because of his opinions. It’s not the first time that a critic of the Rwandan government is assassinated in neighboring countries.

Rwanda National Congress (RNC), a party whose leader, Kayumba Nymawasa, survived an assassination attempt in South Africa last year also denounced the killing in a message released via the Facebook page of its coordinator, Theogene Rudasingwa:

Rwanda National Congress (RNC) condemns in the strongest terms possible, the heinous and cowardly policy of political assassination employed by President Paul Kagame to terrorize and silence all his critics and Rwandan in general. Over the years, President Paul Kagame has used assassinations, forced disappearances and imprisonment as a policy of sustaining himself in power. The Rwandan people both at home and abroad are living under a state of terror. Rwanda has become an Army with a state. It is an understatement to describe Rwanda as a police state in view of the fact that state agents arbitrary arrest, imprison and kill political opponents with impunity.

His murder has been widely discussed on Twitter, however, Paul Kagame, an avid Twitter user remained curiously quiet.

Below are a few of Twitter reactions:

@Rwandankunda: Charles Ingabire, gunned down by #Kagame's thugs yesterday had just published a report accusing Kagame's wife of corruption. #Rwanda

@jckato: no assassin will succeed in muzzling freedom of speech, RIP Charles Ingabire

@Nosa35: Mr. President, you previously told us that you respect the rule of law, but what is this murdered Rwandan journalist Charles Ingabire

@andybk82: Why are East African journalist's silent over the assassination of Charles Ingabire? Hypocrisy.

@Uburenganzira1: Government failed to protect the life of Charles Ingabire but it should now quickly investigate

@batinda123: @kagabo Hullo Frank, any reason why your paper has decided not to cover the death of Charles Ingabire? Are u the poodles of Kagame? Phew! [@Kagabo is a journalist with the New Times, a newspaper linked to the ruling party].

@mugumya: Guys thats all I had about Charles Ingabire. A journalist who attended funeral said most mourners were avoiding looking into his camera

@mugumya: Murdered #Rwanda Journo Charles Ingabire had the most weird funeral service. No Rwandan Embassy officials attended. more Spies than mourners

@Jendinda: RIP Charles Ingabire(Rwandan journalist critical to President Kagame) they have succeeded in silencing you but your work will be remembered

While most of the tweeps seemed to point the finger at the Rwandan government, a few took the official government's position:

philquin: I have seen no evidence — none, zero, nada, zip — that Charles Ingabire was, in any useful sense of the word, a journalist. #rwanda
@kagire: @mugumya You really seem to have made a judgement already.Ingabire Charles was an unknown fellow.If u are a scribe,dont rush to judgment
@Tlambert2011: That so called “political refugee” Charles Ingabire is not known by Rwandans. Don't mislead the people, let the police do its work

His murder was also widely covered by bloggers. Writing for Modern Ghana, Abbey Semuwemba, reflected on the murder of her own father, who was also journalist:

I have always admired Kagame's leadership compared to other African dictators but I think this is one of his weakest points, i.e. killing his political opponents abroad instead of calming things down. This is where Uganda's Museveni is better than him, i.e. at least, he kills some and bribes some. Killing is allegedly a last resort for Museveni, at least.

Cry for Freedom in Rwanda took issue with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, for denying the victim's request for relocation to much safer country:

I have to say that UNHCR has a history of betraying Rwandan refugees. During my visit to Uganda in 2009, I was told that Rwandan dissidents were often denied refugee status by the agency. Some of them while bearing physical signs of torture, had been denied treatment. It seems the UNHCR still operates under the old-fashioned prism that views Kagame as the good guy. This is unfortunate since the UNHCR is mandated to protect refugees without discrimination. It defeats purpose that they would turn away a refugee faced with the threat of murder.

Liam pointed out that Kagame's reputation is increasingly being tarnished by his poor treatment of journalists:

This ambiguity and apprehension revolves around the possible –or as some would argue the likely – role of Rwandan President Paul Kagame; the one-time liberator who now rules Rwanda through tyranny and brutality, in a manner described as worse than Robert Mugabe’s.

The motive for Kagame’s involvement in the murder is clear: as editor of the anti-regime Inyenyeri news website, Ingabire has been a constant thorn in the side of the President and his cronies, leading to threats and harassment, that forced him into Uganda as a political refugee.  Sustaining his online work in exile, he continued to provoke the regime, which will now certainly benefit from his demise.

Lastly, Alex Gakuru analyzed Ingabire's shooting through the frame-work of internet freedom. He argued that the Internet is proving to be a big threat to dictators all over the world. However, he added, dictators would do better by accepting criticism:

It would be far much easier, for everyone, if these rulers frightened by increasingly sophisticated social media platforms providing powerful new mass action avenues learned to accept their misgovernance criticisms and did something to fix it rather than resorting to murdering rights champions. Fomenting rebellions that likely lead to their forceful overthrows through people power. They need to realise that every assassination breeds grounds for multitudes of new online revolts which once crystallized consolidated will ungraciously hound them out of power that had got into their heads and veins.

Charles Ingabire is survived by his wife and a five month old baby.

 

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