East Africa

Rwanda govt suspends BBC broadcasts over genocide documentary

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The Rwandan government has suspended all BBC radio broadcasts in Rwanda’s most common language to protest against the news organisation’s recent documentary about the 1994 genocide in the country.

President Paul Kagame’s government, members of parliament and genocide survivors have expressed their anger at the BBC over the recent documentary that suggested the country’s president may have had a hand shooting down his predecessor’s plane, a crash that triggered the mass killings.

Its hour-long documentary, Rwanda, The Untold Story, also quoted US researchers who suggested that many of the more than 800,000 Rwandans who died in the 1994 genocide may have been ethnic Hutus, and not ethnic Tutsis as the Rwandan government maintains.


Late on Friday, the Rwandan Utilities Regulatory Authority announced the suspension of the BBC’s broadcasts in the local language, Kinyarwanda. The board said it took the action because it has received complaints of “incitement, hatred, divisionism, genocide denial and revision” from the public. It said further action could be taken.

The BBC had defended the film on Friday, saying it had a “duty to investigate difficult and challenging subjects”.

Rwandan minister of foreign affairs Louise Mushikiwabo said the documentary was an “attack on Rwanda and its people” and that her government is contemplating taking action against the BBC.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The Rwandan genocide raises extremely painful issues but the BBC has a duty to investigate difficult and challenging subjects.

“We believe this programme, which was produced by a BBC current affairs team in London and broadcast in the UK, made a valuable contribution to the understanding of the tragic history of the country and the region.”

She said the BBC regretted calls for sanctions against it and criticised the “threat of direct measures against an independent broadcaster” which she described as “inappropriate”.

The corporation rejected the suggestion that the programme constituted a denial of the genocide against ethnic Tutsis and noted that there are repeated references to mass killings of Tutsis by ethnic Hutus.

The documentary suggested that Kagame ordered the downing of the plane of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, the act that is believed to have sparked the genocide.

“My government reserves the right to respond, on its own timing, in a manner commensurate with the weight of the offence,” Mushikiwabo told Associated Press.

Earlier this week the Rwandan parliament passed a resolution to ban the BBC and to lay charges against the journalists behind the documentary.

“What we are saying is that this gross denial of the genocide and disregarding facts to trivialize our history should not go unpunished,” the president of the senate, Bernard Makuza, told AP.

The Rwandan law-makers are demanding an apology from the BBC. University students also held a protest march against the documentary.

Kagame accused the BBC of bringing together genocide revisionists in order to distort the facts about the mass killings.

The documentary quotes former Kagame allies, including former Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, who was previously an army chief of staff.

Rwanda under Kagame has no tolerance for dissent or political opposition, wrote David Mepham, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, on the organisation’s website.

“The Rwandan media is dominated by government views, and most media outlets follow the official line. Scores of Rwandan journalists have fled the country, unable to report freely and fearful for their safety,” Mepham wrote. “Kagame’s Rwanda is similarly ruthless in its treatment of political opponents.”


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