Rwanda: Why Amazing Grace Radio Proprietor Was Arrested

Photo: New Times
Pastor Gregg Schoof was arrested by police.

Greff Schoof, the proprietor and director of the now de-licensed Amazing Grace, a Christian FM radio station, was arrested by the police on Monday morning for allegedly disturbing public order.

Schoof had convened a gathering deemed illegal outside Amahoro National Stadium, according to Police Spokesperson Commissioner of Police John Bosco Kabera, who noted that they had handed him over to Rwanda Investigation Bureau.

"RIB will carry out further investigations," Kabera said.

Schoof, an American national, had his FM radio station's license revoked by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) in April last year over failure to comply with the regulator's sanctions arising from a controversial sermon that denigrated women.

At the time of his arrest, he was distributing a press statement to the media by the roadside after he was denied access to the venue where the meeting was to be held due to lack of official authorisation.

In a press statement to the media of which The New Times has a copy, Schoof was trying to convince media and the public that the Government of Rwanda infringed on religious liberties and on his own rights by withdrawing the license for his radio.

In the statement, he also directs allegations towards Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), accusing them of lying about the radio station having a history of hate speech and about Pastor Nicholas Niyibikora who, in a contentious show aired on January 29, 2018, denigrated women referring to them as "evil".

Schoof had intended to address a news conference and an invitation he has earlier sent to the media had indicated that each journalist would receive Rwf4,000 for "transport" after the briefing.

The briefing had been scheduled to take place at Frontline Bar, right below the stadium but a disagreement ensued between Schoof and the management of the bar after he was found to have had no prior permission to convene the meeting.

"When he was denied access he chose to convene an illegal gathering in the road, attracting many onlookers, which is unacceptable and punishable under the law," Kabera said.

Witness accounts

One of the managers at the bar where the meeting was to be held told The New Times that after realising that Schoof had no permission from authorities to hold the news conference, they cancelled the booking.

The management asked him to present permission from authorities allowing him to hold the gathering but he failed to provide it.

"He had booked the meeting room a week ago. But after realising that he had no permission to hold the meeting, we denied him access," said an employee at the joint.

The meeting was scheduled at 10am in a room booked for Rwf40,000 but when Schoof realised it was no longer possible, he moved the meeting to the roadside.

"He started distributing statements to journalists at the road and this is when security personnel came and arrested him showing him an arrest warrant," said one journalist who was in attendance.

Contacted for comment, RIB Spokesperson Modeste Mbabazi, said that they were investigating Schoof in line with provisions under article 225 of the penal law.

Article 225 says that any person who illegally holds a demonstration or a meeting or who demonstrates on a public place without prior authorisation, commits an offence, and, upon conviction, the person is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than eight days and less than six months.

"We have him in custody and investigations are underway," he said.

Regulators speak out

Commenting on the pastor's statement, Patrick Nyirishema, the RURA Director General, told The New Times that they took the decision to close radio based on existing laws.

"He violated media ethics. We advised him many times and gave him several warnings but he never corrected the mistakes. We then applied the law. He accused us in court and he lost the case. He appealed but he lost again," he said.

Nyirishema explained that, besides the show denigrating women, there were many other shows that bordered on hate speech.

"His radio station hosted shows attacking Islam in Rwanda and we would call him and explain to him that it was against the law, that Rwanda espouses pluralism of faith-based organisations but he never heeded our advice. After ignoring our advice on several occasions, we took the right decision as prescribed by the laws," he said.

Emmanuel Mugisha, the Executive Secretary of RMC, insisted that the commission does not tolerate hate speech.

"We have reviewed his statement in which he accuses us of attacking him and we are ready to respond to him because he is tarnishing our image. He was reprimanded for hate speech.

"Besides, the radio station had no programmes manager to monitor all shows aired which he himself accepted as an anomaly. We had advised him several times but in vain," he said.

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