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Rwandan Journalists Sentenced for Genocide


Reuters, Nairobi (Kenya), Dec. 4, 2003

Two Rwandan journalists were jailed for life and a third was sentenced to 35 years Wednesday for fanning the flames of a 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people, a U.N. tribunal spokesman said.

The verdict marks the end of a landmark three-year trial during which the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania heard how the media played a major role in inciting extremists from the Hutu majority to carry out the 100-day slaughter of ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

'All three defendants were found guilty of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity,' tribunal spokesman Bocar Sy told Reuters from the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha. Ferdinand Nahimana, a founding member of Radio Television Libres des Mille Collines (R.T.L.M.), was sentenced to life in prison along with Hassan Ngeze, owner and editor of the Hutu extremist newspaper Kangura. Life in prison is the most severe penalty that can be handed down by the tribunal.

'Nahimana chose a path of genocide and betrayed the trust placed in him as an intellectual and a leader,' said Presiding Judge Navanethem Pillay. 'He caused the deaths of thousands of civilians without a firearm.' The third defendant, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who was also a founder of R.T.L.M. and public affairs director in Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Ministry, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. 'R.T.L.M. broadcasts was a drumbeat calling on listeners to take action against Tutsis,' Judge Pillay said. 'R.T.L.M. spread petrol throughout the country little by little, so that one day it would be able to set fire to the whole country,' he said.

R.T.L.M., established in April 1993, became known as 'hate radio' and many of its journalists were accused of preaching ethnic hatred and encouraging Hutus, who make up about 85 percent of the population, to massacre Tutsis. The court heard how from April 1994, R.T.L.M. incited the killers, using expressions like 'go work,' 'go clean,' and 'the graves are not yet full.' Georges Ruggiu, a former R.T.L.M. reporter, was jailed for 12 years in 2000 after he pleaded guilty to direct and public incitement to commit genocide. He testified against the three defendants.

'The editorial policy of R.T.L.M. was to diabolize the R.P.F. (the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front) and pro-R.P.F. personalities and to prove that U.N. peacekeepers deployed in the country were biased in favor of the R.P.F.,' Ruggiu, a Belgian, told the court during the trial. He said R.T.L.M. received information from Hutu Interahamwe militia about operations they planned and 'search' notices for people or cars, which was then broadcast on the radio.

The genocide ended when the R.P.F., advancing from bases in neighboring Uganda, toppled the Hutu-led government and hundreds of thousands of Hutus including many Interahamwe fled into the then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Wednesday's verdict was the second this week by the tribunal, which sentenced a former Rwandan mayor to life in prison for genocide Monday. The U.N. tribunal is keen to show progress in trying senior former officials to counter Rwandan government accusations of inefficiency. The court, set up in November 1994, has now sentenced 16 people, four of whom are appealing against their convictions. More than 40 suspects are in custody.