A British journalist and author of a book on alleged human rights abuses in Rwanda has said she lives in fear of being attacked in her home after being on the receiving end of a fierce online backlash.
Michela Wrong, who covered the Rwandan genocide in the ‘90s for the BBC and has spent decades reporting on the African continent, wrote the 2021 book Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad about the death of Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya, who was strangled to death in a South African hotel room in 2014.
Writing in The Observer, Wrong claims that an unnamed British public relations firm played a “key role in orchestrating” an online hate campaign against her in response to the book, which includes strong criticism of rebel leader turned Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
“My book exposed his regime’s ruthless pursuit, well beyond Rwanda’s borders, of opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists, who are beaten, cowed into silence and – in the most high-profile cases – ‘disappeared’ and killed,” Wrong wrote.
Wrong said Rwandan government supporters had accused her of denying the country’s genocide, and attempted to use the EU’s laws on Holocaust denial against her. She said a promotional event for the book was called off in Brussels after a tsunami of tweets and emails to the venue. “I wondered if I even needed to worry about being arrested in Belgium,” she said.
Wrong says almost all of the online harassment she saw on Amazon book reviews ignored the main theme of her book which focussed on “Kagame’s extraterritorial assassination campaign”. She saw a “tide of vilification, expressed in petition form, on specially created websites, in pseudonymous Amazon reviews, and spread by literally hundreds of anonymous social media accounts”.
“I often wake screaming in the night, convinced Rwandan agents have broken into my flat. In the morning, I sometimes find chairs, duvets and pillows stuffed against the front door: my anxiety has bubbled up in my sleep. A therapist would probably mutter ‘PTSD’,” she wrote.
The Rwanda government denies it had anything to do with Karegeya’s murder, while South Africa’s justice system never solved the crime. Days after his death, Mr Kagame told a meeting that those “still alive who may be plotting against Rwanda, whoever they are, will pay the price. Whoever it is, it is a matter of time.”
Attacks on Rwandan dissidents have been reported in countries ranging from neighbouring Uganda to Sweden. In 2011, British police warned at least two dissidents that the Rwandan government posed an “imminent threat” to their lives.
Wrong’s comments come amid reports that four Rwandans have been granted refugee status in Britain over “well-founded” fears of persecution even as Rishi Sunak pushes forward with legislation aimed at declaring the country a safe destination for its asylum seekers to be sent to.
The Rwanda plan is the British government’s response to the growing number of migrants from around the world – 46,000 in 2022 – who cross the English Channel from France to Britain in small boats.
The Conservative government says these migrants should not be treated as genuine refugees because they did not claim asylum in another safe country, such as France, that they reached first.
Human rights groups have called the plan unworkable and unethical, as it will send migrants to a country 4,000 miles (6,400 miles) away that they don’t want to live in. No one has yet been sent to Rwanda, with the plan repeatedly challenged in the courts.
One Rwandan refugee in the UK, who was granted asylum in 2018, toldThe Independent he still lived “in fear” of the Rwandan government after he was allegedly tortured by the authorities for articles he published, and branded the migration deal “shameful”.