KIGALI (Reuters) - A journalist working for a suspended Rwandan newspaper was shot dead by an unknown gunman, police said on Friday.
Jean Leonard Ruganbage, who worked as an editor for the vernacular Umuvugizi paper, was shot twice outside his home in a suburb of Kigali on Thursday night, police spokesman Eric Kayiranga said.
“It was around 10 pm at his gate, as he was coming home. An armed criminal shot him with two bullets. Police came five minutes later and took the body to hospital. He died on the spot,” Kayiranga told Reuters.
Ahead of a presidential election on August 9, international rights groups and the United States, a major donor and military ally, have expressed growing concerns about a government clampdown on critical media and opposition political parties.
The government says free speech must be tempered by concerns about inciting ethnic hatred which led to the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered.
Ruganbage’s senior editor, Jean Bosco Gasasira, who fled to Uganda in April, accused the government of responsibility. Police firmly denied the charges.
“I and my deputy editor were following up an investigative story (and) he’s been under intense surveillance. We’re really 100 percent sure it was those people who have been following him who are responsible,” he said by telephone from Kampala.
Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demanded that France, whose ties with Rwanda have been improving after years of strain, and the European Union ensure an independent investigation into the killing.
“The suspensions of newspapers, repeated cases against media professionals and the blocking of internet sites don’t appear to have been enough to make the international community react,” RSF said in a statement. “Will this tragic incident at least open the eyes of those who endorse the Kigali regime?”
Gasasira linked his colleague’s killing to an Umuvugizi story published online on Thursday which blamed Rwandan intelligence for an alleged assassination attempt on an exiled former army and intelligence chief in South Africa a week ago.
“That is a lie,” said Kayiranga. “He is an ordinary man like any other, why would he be killed by government? There is nothing, no indicator that can link him to a killing by the government.”
General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fled Rwanda in February, was shot in the stomach but survived the attack at his house in South Africa.
Rwanda is seeking Nyamwasa’s extradition in connection with a string of deadly grenade attacks in the capital, Kigali, since the beginning of the year.
Rwandan authorities deny Nyamwasa’s claim that the attack was an assassination attempt planned by President Paul Kagame.
Nyamwasa, who rejects the grenade charges, has been indicted alongside Kagame for war crimes by French and Spanish judges.
Media authorities banned Umuvugizi for six months in April, along with another critical paper, for erroneous content and inciting opposition to the government.