African journalist unions condemn killing of Charles Ingabire in Uganda

Leaders of Journalists unions and associations in Africa, meeting on the sidelines of the17th Conference of Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Convention Climate Change UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa have strongly condemned the shooting to death of exiled Rwandan journalist, Charles Ingabire in Uganda. Charles Ingabire was gunned down in Kampala on Wednesday 29 November 2011,  and initial investigations have revealed that he was struck by two bullets. Charles was the editor of Inyenyeri News, an online publication critical of the government of Rwandan President, Paul Kagame.

The Journalists leaders, meeting as the Federation of African Journalists, FAJ, also condemned the escalation of harassment and hostilities against Zimbabwean journalists, following the arrest of Daily News editor, Stanley Gama and journalist, Xolisani Ncube, using defamation laws. Xolisani was the first to be arrested before Stanley was also detained after he went to the police station on a rescue mission.

In Somalia, the FAJ is dismayed that the ministry of labour has instructed the Cabinet to begin inquiries into the ‘illegal activities’ of trade unions.

According to reports from NUSOJ, ongoing harassment of journalists, particularly members of our affiliate, National Union of Somali Journalists, NUSOJ, armed police officers, stormed union offices and arrested and detained NUSOJ organizing secretary, Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed.

Over the past few weeks, NUSOJ offices have persistently been raided and members and employees detained unlawfully.

“It is worrying that the lives of journalists, their welfare , safety and trade union rights are being undermined by African governments” said FAJ Vice President, Foster Dongozi. “The developments in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Somalia over the past few days are a moral disgrace and are a reflection of the mortal danger and peril that African journalists work in.”

“We believe in some instances, some rogue public officials are using security forces such as the police and the military as private mercenaries or militia to fight Press Freedom outside formal government structures.”

“Where formal government structures are being used to fight Press Freedom, we urge them to review their positions and play an active role in ensuring the safety and protection of journalists in Africa,” said Dongozi.

Dongozi added: “We urge all the implicated governments or their arms, to immediately stop the murder, harassment and intimidation of our members and union leaders.

Meanwhile, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the fatal shooting and called on the Ugandan police to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said it is too early to tell who is behind the murder.

“It might be a personal issue, but based on CPJ research and some of our contacts in Kampala, we do know that a lot of exiled Rwandan journalists are living in Kampala, and they often feel threatened by security agencies that seem to be tracking them down.”

He said there is no evidence yet to show that the Rwanda government was involved in the killing. What makes it look suspicious, some say, is that Ingabire was outspoken in his criticism [of the Rwanda government].

Rhodes said many journalists who flee to neighboring states are not safe because security agents sometimes pursue critics beyond the borders of their home countries.  He cited the threat by agents to Ethiopian journalists exiled in Kenya, as well as Rwanda journalists living in Uganda.

Rhodes is optimistic the Uganda authorities will investigate the death of Ingabire.

“After speaking to the police [in Uganda] they assured me they are taking this case seriously. They already have, for example, his phone which they are using to track the calls he made recently.”

This is not the first time Ingabire was attacked. Unknown assailants allegedly attacked him two months ago in Kampala, took his laptop computer, and demanded he shut down Inyenyeri.

Ingabire is the second Rwandan journalist killed in less than two years, according to the CPJ.  Last June, 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.