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Imprisoned Congolese university professor's health in danger; RSF calls for his release

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the release of Congolese university professor Idesbald Byabuze Katabaruka because of the tenuous nature of the charges against him and the risk that detention poses to his frail health. He has been held since 16 February 2007 in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in connection with a 2005 report critical of President Paul Kagame, which he says he did not write. On 23 February, a court ordered him held for 30 days pending trial.

"This distressing case highlights the Rwandan government's extreme sensitivity to criticism," Reporters Without Borders said. "We would like to remind the government that a peaceful debate involving conflicting views is the sign of a vibrant democracy, but it is unfair and disproportionate to throw a man in prison because of a critical report if it does not explicitly incite violence or hatred."

The press freedom organisation added: "Katabaruka should be freed because he agrees to appear before a court to answer the charges and because the conditions in which he is being held pose a major danger for his health."

Katabaruka was giving a class at the Adventist Lay University of Kigali (UNILAK) on 16 February when a police officer came and told him he had to "answer a few questions." After being interrogated for five hours at national police headquarters, he was taken to a police station in the Kigali neighbourhood of Kacyiru, where he spent the night in a cell.

He was then taken to the Kicukiro police station, and then to the police station in Gikondo, where a prosecutor told him he would be tried for endangering state security, "segregation" and "sectarianism." It was a court in Kagarama which, on 23 February, ordered him held for 30 days.

Also a professor at the Catholic University of Bukavu in Sud-Kivu, a province in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Katabaruka was responsible for launching the newspaper "Mashariki News", of which two issues have so far appeared. Over the years, he has written a number of alarming reports about the humanitarian situation on the border between Rwanda and the DRC.

His name appeared as one of the authors of an 8 June 2005 report for the Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) entitled "Rwanda Alert." The other two authors were an Italian nun and a Congolese nun with Catholic missions in the east of the DRC. It was a scathing assessment of Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) since Kagame became president in 1994.

When Reporters Without Borders met Katabaruka in Kigali central prison (also called "1930"), he said the appearance of his name on the report was "unfortunate" and he was not responsible for its content. "They must have put my name at the foot of the report because, at the time, I was supervising some of the work of these nuns."

At his first court appearance, in Gikondo, Katabaruka asked the court "to accept my modest and true words of pardon, love and reconciliation" between Rwanda and the DRC "which have so much need of this." As he had three quarters of his stomach removed in an operation, Katabaruka needs a special diet and medicines, which he has not been getting ever since he was put in prison.

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