Kigali — At least three journalists a month since 2001 have fled their country to escape violence, imprisonment, or harassment and Rwanda stands out among the countries from where most journalists have fled for dear life, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports.
According to a report 'Journalists in Exile' released Tuesday in New York, 9 Rwandan journalists have been forced out of the country to date, with Zimbabwe being the worst culprit having 48 scribes out of the troubled country.
The survey does not detail the causes of exile for every country but explains the common phenomenon with most countries as threat of violence, followed by imprisonment or threat of imprisonment, and harassment.
Since 2001, when the campaign group started tracking exiled scribes, it records a total of 243 from 36 countries worldwide. More than half are reported to hail from just five: Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Colombia, and Uzbekistan.
The ten major culprits include; Zimbabwe (48), Ethiopia (34), Eritrea (19), Colombia (17), Uzbekistan (16), Haiti (14), Afghanistan, Liberia - (10), Rwanda (9), The Gambia (6) and Iran (5).
The group said 60% were from African countries, where porous borders and harsh press freedom conditions contribute to a steady exodus of journalists.
About 123 sought and obtained asylum on their own or were resettled by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. However, asylum claims by some have been denied by the UN resettlement programs.
The common case of account in Rwanda came in 2004, when Didas Gasana - then a reporter with the Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG) fled the country through Tanzania citing "harassment from the authorities".
Reports however have it that the UNHCR received him but declined him asylum after investigations revealed his reasons for fleeing were not founded. It was later discovered that he had actually disappeared with embezzled fund from his employer. He has since returned and now works with the same company.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, fleeing ones country has not turned out to be the redemption to their problems as the host countries have become another nightmare.
"Most of those (exiled) are living in extreme poverty, and some have been harassed by police who routinely shake them down, threatening to send them to refugee camps or report them to officials in their home countries", the report said.
North America, Europe and Africa host the most journalists in exile, with the United States, Britain, Kenya and Canada ranking as the top four countries of refuge in the CPJ survey.
Mr. Thomas Kamilindi, formerly with national radio - managed to clandestinely leave Rwanda for the United States pointing to a "fear for his life". He currently works with the Voice of America.
Another notable figure is Mr. John Mugabi - founder of RIMEG - the parent company to Rwanda Newsline and UMUSESO newspapers. Reports say he disappeared after a conference in The Netherlands in 2002. He has since however kept a low profile and it is said he has managed RIMEG from his exile.
Mr. Mboningaba Ismail (Belgium), Mr. Sebufirira Robert (Canada), Mr.
Kalisa McDowell (Sweden) and Mr. Munyaneza Geodfrey, all formerly with UMUSESO fled in 2003 citing harassment. Mr. Munyaneza Geodfrey has since returned and now undertaking his bachelors at the National University of Rwanda.
Over the period surveyed, 34 journalists who had gone into exile eventually returned home when conditions seemed safer for them. Of those who returned, 86 percent resumed work in journalism, either in their former positions or in comparable jobs.
Statistics from the CPJ survey indicate that out of the 243 journalists recorded in the 6-year period, 209 are still in exile and 34 have returned to their countries.
The survey also shows that ninety-four (94) left their countries citing threats of violence or death as 74 pointed to a likelihood of imprisonment. Seventy-four (74) reported they had been vigorously harassed.
The CPJ report comes at a time when Rwanda is back in the news after the Ministry of Information withdrew the license of a new publication The Weekly Post - just two days after its first issue was out.
Information Minister Prof. Laurent Nkusi has declined to give reasons for his decision only saying it was based on information attained from "circumspect investigations". The owners of the paper have since petitioned the High Council of the Press for "arbitration".