The imprisonment of three Rwandan media executives for their role in the 1994 genocide has been welcomed by the international journalism community.
It is believed to be the first time since the Nuremburg trials that journalists have been imprisoned by an international criminal tribunal.
Ferdinand Nahimana, the government information officer who helped to set up radio station RTLM, was sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Hassan Ngeze, editor of Kangura, a fortnightly newspaper.
Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who helped to found RTLM and was a former foreign ministry director of political affairs, was jailed for 35 years.
More than 500,000 died in the genocide, which mainly pitted Rwanda’s Hutu majority against the Tutsi ethnic minority.
RTLM and Kangura listed the names and addresses of people to be killed. In January 1994, Ngeze wrote: “What isn’t being said to the cockroaches [meaning Tutsis] is that if they raise their heads again, it won’t be necessary to go and fight the enemy remaining in the bush. Instead we will start by purging the internal enemyâ€¦ they will disappear.”
In April 1994, RTLM urged its listeners to “hunt down the foreigners” and “leave no survivors who could later accuse them”.
Presiding judge Navanethem Pillay said: “Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon you caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.”
The UN International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda “hate-media” trial started three years ago. The last time a journalist faced such charges was at the Nuremburg trials of 1946, when Julius Streicher, editor of the antiSemitic newspaper Der Sturmer, was sentenced to death.
Robert Menard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said: “We hope these sentences are seen as a warning to the many journalists in Africa and elsewhere who stir up hate in their writing. These sentences should serve as a call to order to all the publications that constantly flout the most elementary rules of professional ethics and conduct.”
Robert Shaw, spokesman for the International Federation of Journalists, said: “If you have a media organisation that becomes a platform for propaganda, incites violence and promotes genocide – these people have to be held accountable for what happens. It is something we would support
By Dominic Ponsford