Media outlets excluded from UK Home Secretary’s trip to Rwanda

Home Secretary Suella Braverman will be accompanied by journalists from GB News, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. Photo: UK Home Office

For the second time in twelve months, Index on Censorship has submitted a Council of Europe alert related to the exclusion of media outlets from official UK Government visits.

On 17 March, the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP is due to travel to Rwanda to reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to its controversial plan to send refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the African country as part of the UK Government’s pledge to reduce illegal immigration. 

During the trip, the Home Secretary is to meet with representatives of the Rwandan Government and visit facilities set up as part of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, which forms part of the new Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently making its way through UK Parliament. However, as reported by The Independent, she will only be accompanied by representatives from outlets including GB News, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. The BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Mirror and i newspaper have not been invited.

Martin Bright, Index on Censorship’s Editor at Large said: “We are concerned to hear that journalists from organisations judged to be critical of the government’s immigration policy have not been invited to accompany the Home Secretary on her trip to Rwanda. Democracy depends on an open and transparent relationship between government and the media, where all journalists are able to scrutinise the government. Index on Censorship believes that access to Government ministers, both domestically and as part of international visits, should not be treated as a reward for favourable coverage.”

In May 2022, Index on Censorship submitted an alert to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists when Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel excluded a number of media outlets from an April 2022 trip where she signed the original deal in Kigali. At the time, the Home Office denied excluding certain journalists in an effort to avoid scrutiny. A Home Office spokesperson told the Press Gazette: “The Home Office fully adheres to the Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance when dealing with members of the media”. A spokesperson for The Guardian said: “We are concerned that Home Office officials are deliberately excluding specific journalists from key briefings and engagements”. 

All alerts posted to the platform are submitted to the relevant Council of Europe member state for response. While the original alert was published on 9 May 2022, there has been no state reply as of 17 March 2023. According to the Council of Europe’s own analysis, in 2022, the UK had a reply rate of 18%.

At the time of publication, the Home Office has not commented on the exclusion of media outlets ahead of Suella Braverman’s official visit.

Ntwali’s death is a huge loss for Rwanda’s challenging media landscape

Rwandan journalist John Williams Ntwali – who many believed was the last remaining independent journalist in the country – died last week. He was apparently killed in a road accident in the country’s capital, Kigali, in the early hours of 18 January 2023. He was 43 years old, and leaves behind a wife and child.

It has been reported that a speeding vehicle crashed into the motorcycle he was riding as a passenger. Police spokesman John Bosco Cabera told Reuters that Ntwali was the sole fatality.

Ntwali, who was a leading investigative journalist and editor of the Rwandan-based news publication The Chronicles, was one of the few journalists who was openly critical of Paul Kagame, who became president of Rwanda in 2000. Several journalists and commentators are currently imprisoned under Kagame’s regime.

Ntwali was regularly threatened as a journalist exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda.

“I’m focused on justice, human rights, and advocacy. I know those three areas are risky here in Rwanda, but I’m committed to [them],” he told Al Jazeera. He also spoke about how death threats were common as part of his work.

There were widespread tributes to Ntwali’s death after it was announced.

The Rwanda Journalists Association said: “We are saddened by the death of journalist John Williams Ntwali this week in a road accident. Our condolences go out to his family, the wider media community and friends and relatives. May God rest in peace.”

MP and president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Frank Habineza, wrote: “It is with great sadness that we share the tragic news of the death of journalist John Williams, who died in an accident. We are patient with his family. God bless you. Our sincere condolences. May his soul rest in eternal glory.”

As the authorities have yet to produce any reports or evidence from Ntwali’s fatal accident, Lewis Mudge, Central African Director at Human Rights Watch, wrote that he not only dared to report about political repression but that “he joins a long list of people who have challenged the government and died in suspicious circumstances.”

The Human Rights Foundation said that his death is considered suspicious as he was in “the regime’s crosshairs for his journalistic work.”

There have also been calls for an independent enquiry into Ntwali’s death, with Ntwali’s family and friends requesting an independent international investigation. Angela Quintal, Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Ntwali will be mourned and also called for “a transparent, comprehensive, and credible accounting of the circumstances that led to his death.” Index join in these calls for accountability.

Ntwali’s funeral was held in the Gacurabwenge sector of the Kamonyi district, Rwanda, on 22 January 2023.

Rwanda was ranked 136 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index. According to the organisation, media owners must pledge allegiance to the government, and methods such as espionage, surveillance, arrest and forced disappearance is used in the county to prevent journalists from working freely. It also says that arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists have increased in recent years.

Ntwali’s death comes one year ahead of Rwanda going to the polls. Last summer Kagame said that he planned to run again in 2024, seeking his fourth term in office.

“I would consider running for another 20 years. I have no problem with that. Elections are about people choosing,” he told France 24. In 2017, Kagame reportedly won 99% of the vote, leading to cries of foul-play. Whether Ntwali’s death was suspicious or not, his death leaves a huge hole in Rwanda’s media landscape. Who is now left to speak out against Kagame?

Index raises concerns over exclusion of journalists from UK Home Secretary’s Rwanda visit

Index has filed a Council of Europe alert raising concerns about the decision to exclude certain journalists from accompanying UK Home Secretary Priti Patel on an official visit to Rwanda where she announced a proposed new arrangement for sending British migrants to the central African country to have their asylum claims decided.

Journalists from The Guardian, Financial Times and The Mirror were among those excluded by the Home Office on the mid-April press trip, restricting their ability to scrutinise a significant development in British foreign policy.

Among those excluded was Rajeev Syal, the Guardian’s home affairs editor, who had previously reported extensively on bullying allegations against Patel. Other home affairs specialists did accompany Patel on the trip. The Guardian said: “We are concerned that Home Office officials are deliberately excluding specific journalists from key briefings and engagements.”

The Financial Times told Press Gazette: “On this occasion our journalists were excluded from the press trip and received minimal briefing. It is clearly not good practice to exclude some media from government meetings simply because they are willing to ask difficult questions.”

Index understands it is not the first time journalists have been blacklisted by the Home Office in this way. Only a select group of reporters was invited on a trip Priti Patel made in November 2021 to Washington DC to discuss terrorism and the global migration crisis with Alejandro Mayorkas, US secretary of homeland security.

The government’s controversial scheme will see migrants who arrive in small boats after crossing the English Channel flown 4,000 miles to Rwanda to have their claims processed; in her speech in Rwanda, Patel said 28,000 migrants crossed the Channel this way in 2021.

Migrants will be encouraged to relocate to the African country. Patel said, “Those who are resettled will be given support, including up to five years of training to help with integration, accommodation, and healthcare, so that they can resettle and thrive.”

Opponents of the scheme have questioned Rwanda’s record on human rights and free expression. Journalists working in Rwanda operate under a strict accreditation system and criticism of President Paul Kagame is off limits.

In March, Human Rights Watch said Rwanda did not match up to international standards of free speech and warned of a wave of arrests of Rwandan journalists and commentators:  “Judicial authorities in Rwanda, lacking the independence to stand up and protect free speech in accordance with international law, have unjustly convicted and jailed people based on their protected speech and opinions,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The first legal challenge to the Rwanda scheme was launched last week on behalf of an Iranian asylum seeker. Lawyers argue the proposals breach international law, the UN refugee convention and British data protection legislation.

In her speech in Rwanda, Patel said, “This agreement fully complies with all international and national law, and as part of this ground-breaking agreement, the UK is making a substantial investment in the economic development of Rwanda.”

The Home Office has denied targeting certain journalists and says it adheres the UK’s Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance in dealing with the media.

The Council of Europe was founded after World War II to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of rule across the continent. It is committed to upholding the European Convention on Human Rights.

The British government will be asked to provide a formal response to the alert, although it has a poor record in this regard, responding to just 10 per cent of the alerts filed in 2021.

Tackling the legacy of the 1994 genocide: Media reform in Rwanda

Photo: Shutterstock

Flowers at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali Photo: Shutterstock

April 2014 marks the twenty year commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide that saw over one million Rwandans killed in less than one hundred days. The genocide demonstrated, in brutal terms, how societal divisions could be politicised, and ultimately militarised, to reach political ends. But in the years that have followed, the peace that has emerged is one defined by consolidated state control.

There are reasons to be optimistic. As well as the 2012 revision of the Access to Information law and the softening of the ‘genocide ideology’ legislation, in 2013 the Media Law was reformed. One key improvement is the recognition of self-regulation, as opposed to state-led control, as the primary regulatory framework for media houses and journalists, as well as a number of steps to present the media as both a professional and inclusive entity. These are bold steps forward to both enable and strengthen the media’s capacity to hold the state to account.

The reforms, however, left a number of key restrictions intact. Both Freedom House and Article 19 comment on the continued existence of requiring state approval for the launching of new outlets, as well as state-led definitions of legal duties required of journalists. Concerning the latter, Article 19 goes on to state that there is “a lack of clarity in the law about exactly who will enforce these obligations.”

When it comes to analysing both the events and legacy of 1994, the state remains prominent. Freedom House, in their 2013 Freedom on the Net summary, identified that the “Government-run Media High Council systematically monitors all print and broadcast media coverage during the country’s annual genocide mourning period every April.” We will have to wait and see if this occurs in 2014, but the state apparatus appears flexible and fluid enough to adapt quickly to the changing face of journalism – Freedom House noted that April 2012 marked the advent of online and social media monitoring.

In the monitoring report from 2012, the Media High Council, while praising the media as a whole for its coverage of the commemoration, singled out BBC Gahuzamiryango, stating it “[disseminated] genocide ideological issues” with content such as:

I recognize the Genocide against Tutsi, and I pay tribute to killed Hutu as well; yet, they only commemorate Tutsi.”

The legacy of the genocide, while affecting every community – many Hutus were among those killed, no one was truly left untouched – is a narrative defined and controlled by the state.

One of the main aspects that enabled violence to spread across Rwanda so quickly in 1994 was how perceived divisions between Tutsis and Hutus could be co-opted by state mechanisms, militias, elders, community leaders and the media. But does a centralised state-led narrative, strengthened in part by the criminalisation of genocide ideology, confront this divisionism or, in fact, does it pit free speech and the legacy of the genocide at odds with each other?

Prior to these reforms, journalists and media outlets have faced a range of punitive measures, including fines, incarceration and, at times, violence – in 2012, a radio presenter was incarcerated for 3 months for mixing up the Kinyarwanda terms for “victims” with that of “survivors”. While the reforms go some distance to protect journalists and media outlets, the true test of these reforms lie in how the relationship between media bodies and the state is to be reconfigured.

There have been well-documented disappearances, attacks and assassinations of prominent Rwandan journalists, civil society leaders and opposition-leaders in exile. While there is limited evidence directly implicating the Rwandan state, key officials have made statements regarding the fate of a number of these targets. In January 2014, this message was posted on the official twitter account of the Rwandan presidency, after the assassination of Patrick Karegeya, former head of Rwanda’s external intelligence services:

Those who criticize Rwanda know how far they go to protect their own nation.

This nexus between ‘criticism’ and national security, illuminating the ghost of 1994, offers a dangerous precedent for journalists and media houses. Criticism cannot divide the state and the media. If the move towards self-regulation is to fulfil its promise, the reform’s implementation is of utmost importance. Instead of feeling the need to be protected from the state, to be able to properly hold the state to account, the media needs to feel protected by the state.

No community was left unaffected by the events of 1994. Indeed its lingering effect is still felt across the entire region. These reforms are a positive step forward, empowering the media to take an active role in building dialogue and facilitating debate on the events and legacy of 1994. But as self-regulation establishes a foothold, how the state reacts to it will determine the true nature of media freedom in Rwanda for this year’s commemoration and all those that follow.

This article was posted on 17 March 2014 at