KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda Wednesday said this week's suspension of two newspapers was not politically motivated ahead of August's presidential election but a media watchdog fiercely criticized the move.
Paris-based Reporters Without (RSF) slammed the 6-month suspension, saying it was designed to silence media critics.
"This decision clearly aims to gag Rwanda's main sources of independent news in the run-up to the August 2010 presidential election," RSF said in a statement Wednesday.
"It suppresses all critical journalism and deprives Rwandans of an alternative to the state newspapers," RSF added.
Freedom of speech remains a delicate issue in a country where corruption of the media and the political endorsement of ethnic hatred during the early 1990s led to genocide, following years of dictatorship.
Rwanda's Media High Council said the decision to suspend the Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers was based on their erroneous content.
"We are acting on the basis of the content of the publications. Elections are months away," said Patrice Mulama, Executive Secretary of Media High Council.
"This is not the first time we are suspending Umuseso for inciting the public. We suspended this paper in 2004 and 2009," he said. "We are challenging the professionalism of these papers and we have a firm ground to explain the case at hand to court."
Editing by Richard Lough and Simon Cameron-Moore