Opposition Politician Rwigara Cleared of Charges
Rwanda, a country known for having very little tolerance for political dissent, has made the news after the high court of the country cleared the most prominent opposition leader DIane Rwigara. Following her election challenge against President Paul Kagame, Rwigara was accused and arrested for insurrection and forgery. She has been cleared because the judge cited that the prosecution had little to no evidence of insurrection or forgery.
President Paul Kagame has been ruling the country since 1994 (he didn’t officially become president until 2000) when he and his rebel forces stopped the genocide of mostly ethnic Tutsis. He’s been hailed for his ability leading the country in it’s recovery after the genocide and progressing women’s rights and economic development. However, his increasingly autocratic tendencies and manner in his position have been pointed out by critics.
Diane Rwigara, a 37-year-old human rights activist, was originally arrested in September 2017 when her presidential bid was denied due to her allegedly forging signatures on her bid. Later, the charge of inciting insurrection was also added because of critical comments about the government and Kagame by her newly launched activist group People Salvation Movement.
The panel of three judges that heard her case found no evidence of forgery and stressed her right, under the Rwandan constitution and international law, to freedom of expression. Had she been convicted, she would have faced 22 years in prison.
Rwigara’s mother Adeline, 59, and four others also faced charges when Adeline accused the government of killing her husband over WhatsApp messages with these people. Her husband, and Diane Rwigara’s father, Assinapol Rwigara, died in a car accident in 2015 although the family says that he was assassinated. Adeline was also cleared of charges because the court ruled that she has the right to freedom of speech in a private manner.
Rwigara and her mother spent more than a year in prison, but got released on bail in October. Since their arrests, the rest of their family has been victim to constant harassment and interrogation by the government, and, to pay off a multimillion-dollar tax claim, some of their family assets were forcibly auctioned off.
On Thursday, after the ruling, Rwigara talked to journalists saying “I am very happy with the verdict. I am continuing with my political journey … because there’s still a lot that needs to be done in our country. Everything I talked about in the past has not been resolved. There are still many political prisoners in the country.”