June 5, 2015 / 3:37 PM / 2 years ago

EU envoys criticize suspension of BBC service in Rwanda

KIGALI (Reuters) - European Union ambassadors criticized on Friday the suspension of the local BBC radio service in Rwanda over a row related to a BBC program on the 1994 genocide, saying the suspension undermined free speech.

The service was suspended in October after a documentary by the broadcaster questioned official accounts of the genocide, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

The state-run Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority said last Friday that the BBC broadcasts were indefinitely suspended. The case has been referred to the prosecutor general.

The BBC’s “Rwanda: The Untold Story,” which aired in October, included interviews with former aides to President Paul Kagame, a former rebel leader, accusing him of plotting to shoot down a plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana.

The assassination of Habyarimana marked the start of the 100-day genocide. The documentary also suggested that Tutsi rebels, led by Kagame, committed war crimes.

Kagame called the documentary “cynicism of the highest order”.

”We recognize the hurt caused in Rwanda by some parts of the BBC 2 documentary “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” European Union ambassadors in Kigali said in a statement.

“However, we regret the indefinite suspension of the BBC Kinyarwanda service on FM and on the internet in Rwanda, which affects media freedom and limits the space for expressing opinions. We expect legal due process to be followed in further steps,” said the envoys, including those from the Netherlands, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Sweden and the EU mission.

“We expect legal due process to be followed in further steps,” the statement said.

Rights groups have criticized Rwanda for clamping down on the media and stifling political dissent, a charge the government dismisses, saying it guarantees free speech.

Rwandan officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the EU statement.

The armed forces of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Kagame, defeated government troops in 1994, stopping a three-month wave of bloodletting by ethnic Hutu extremists

Critics say Kagame, a Tutsi, has taken advantage of Western guilt over the genocide to increase persecution of opponents.

The Kinyarwanda program, which many Rwandans used to listen for stories and debates that cannot run on local media, used run 30 minutes every day and two hours every Saturday.

Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by George Obulutsa

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