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Rwandan radio reporter freed after being held for 14 years on genocide charge

Rwandan radio reporter freed after being held for 14 years on genocide charge
Dominique Makeli, journalist for Radio Rwanda, was held at Kigali central prison (PCK) since September 18, 1994. He fled in the first days of the genocide to Kibuye, western Rwanda, where one of his sons had been killed one month earlier by extremist Hutu militiamen. On his return to Kigali on September 18, he was arrested at his home by an agent from military intelligence (DMI). In October 2001, the state prosecutor, Sylvaire Gatambiye, told RSF that Makeli was accused of "incitement to genocide in his reporting." In May 1994, he covered an appearance of the Virgin in Kibeho, west of Butare, and reported a statement she was believed to have made as, "the parent is in heaven". The prosecutor explained, that in the context of the time, that meant, "President Habyarimana is in heaven" and people interpreted the message as God's support for the former president and, by extension, the policy of massacre of the Tutsis.Photo: Reporters sans Frontières

Dominique Makeli, a former reporter with state-owned Radio Rwanda who had held since 1994 on a vague, genocide-related charge, has been released, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

Makeli’s release on October 13 was a result of his acquittal by a gacaca (popular tribunal) in the Kigali district of Nyarugenge on October 5. Detained since September 18, 1994, he had been transferred from one detention centre to another, ending up in Kigali central prison, also known as “1930”.

“This is excellent news and a great relief,” Paris-based RSF said. “Like fellow Radio Rwanda journalist Tatiana Mukakibibi, who was freed in November 2007 after 11 years in detention, Makeli has suffered an incredibly long ordeal during which he was unable to defend himself against slanderous allegations. We hope he will now be able to live peacefully, after these 14 years of isolation and injustice.”

A public prosecutor told RSF in October 2001 that Makeli was accused of inciting genocide in his reports. While covering a supposed appearance of the Virgin in Kibeho, in the west of the country, in May 1994, Makeli reported that she was supposed to have said: “The parent is in heaven.”

The prosecutor insisted that, in the context of that moment, this was taken to mean, “President Habyarimana is in heaven” and was interpreted as a message of support for Habyarimana and, by extension, the policy of exterminating Tutsis. Both Makeli and many local independent observers disputed that interpretation.

During its visits to Rwanda, RSF met Makeli several times in prison. A very religious person whose health deteriorated steadily during his years in prison, he always insisted on his innocence. He was transferred to Arusha, Tanzania, in 2007 to appear as a witness before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and was returned to prison in Rwanda afterwards.

Date posted: October 16, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 401