By matthew stein
More than four months after Jean-Leonard Rugambage, the outspoken deputy editor of Umuvugizi newspaper was shot outside his home in Kigali, his killers have been sentenced to life in prison. Rwanda’s High Court sitting in Kimihurura, ruled that Didace Nduguyangu was guilty of ‘homicide and illegal possession of a firearm,’ and Antoine Karemera was guilty of, ‘being an accessory to homicide.’ Both men were arrested on June 25, 2010, and have since been under investigation.
Nduguyangu had earlier pleaded guilty to the charges against him saying the murder served as revenge for Karemera’s late brother, Jean de Dieu Munyambabazi, who Nduguyangu alleges was killed by Rugambage during the 1994 genocide. Rugambage, a former soldier in the genocidal forces, was sentenced to two years by a Gacaca court, but was released after serving one year. The early release and alleged taunts Rugambage continued to make towards Nduguyangu, eventually provoked Nduguyangu to violence.
‘We were not happy by the way Rugambage used to mock us and assuring us how our efforts to have him imprisoned failed and even went ahead to mockingly invite us to his wedding,’ Nduguyangu claimed.
‘We then agreed to revenge. I am the one who went to his house, waited for him to come home and I shot him as he came out of the car and, thereafter, I ran to Mount Kigali to hide the gun,’ Nduguyangu told the court in July.
Karemera, however, has denied any responsibility for the incident.
Others in Rwanda, however, have suggested that Rugambage’s death could have been politically motivated on account of his critical reporting. Umuvugizi, one of Rwanda’s most popular newspapers, had been suspended in April by the Media High Council. Rugambage, nevertheless, continued to publish online.
The day he was assassinated, Rugambage had just published an online article that linked the Rwandan government to the June 19, 2010 assassination attempt on Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, the former Rwanda army chief of staff now exiled in South Africa.
Mr Rugambage had also made earlier complaints to his colleagues that he was being trailed and threatened by security agents. Rugambage’s colleague at Umuvugizi, Editor Jean-Bosco Gasasira, had fled Rwanda in May after reporting legal and physical intimidation.
‘I think the trial was comical,’ says Didas Gasana, former deputy editor of the highly contentious and critical Umuseso newspaper. ‘The government tries these people, sentences them but will release them in six months. I do not believe that guy did the crime on his own.’
Didas cites contradictory testimony from Nduguyangu as proof that there is more to this case then what has been presented. At first, says Didas, Nduguyangu testified that he had received Rwf 500,000 from Karemera, only to change his testimony later on.
Rwanda’s first post-genocide Prime Minister (1994-5) Faustin Twagiramungu, who now lives in exile in Belgium, said the journalist’s murder ‘proves that the regime of General Kagame is not ready to end its crime politics.’
‘There is no doubt that journalist Jean-Lonard Rugambage was murdered by Rwandan Patriotic Front’s death squads whose tactics and murders are public knowledge. Statements that were issued by the Rwandan government ordering an investigation allegedly to shed light on the assassination are just an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the international community.’
Frank Habineza, the president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, also condemned the murder. ‘The deceased journalist has left behind a two-year-old boy whose mother is unemployed. We appeal to the Rwandan Government to use all means available to bring to justice these criminals and do whatever possible to help end these sad happenings.’