Thursday 13 December 2018

Rwandan court drops all charges against opposition figure

Diane Rwigara, 37, was arrested after challenging longtime President Paul Kagame in last year’s election.

Former Rwanda presidential candidate Diane Rwigara (AP)
Former Rwanda presidential candidate Diane Rwigara (AP)

By Ignatius Ssuuna, Associated Press

Rwanda’s high court has acquitted the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Diane Rwigara, of all charges against her.

The judge said the prosecution failed to provide evidence of insurrection and forgery.

Ms Rwigara’s mother, Adeline, 59, also was acquitted of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism. Both women had denied the charges.

Diane Rwigara, 37, was arrested after challenging longtime President Paul Kagame in last year’s election.

Her case has drawn global attention as Mr Kagame again faces pressure to give more space to critics in the highly controlled country.

US senators in recent days urged the Rwandan government to drop the charges against her, with Sen Dick Durbin noting “what appears to be highly questionable charges against Ms Rwigara for seemingly running for office peacefully”.

In response, Rwanda’s justice minister told reporters that courts should not be pressured by third parties.

Speaking ahead of her court appearance, Ms Rwigara remained defiant, saying no amount of pressure will silence her.

“I hope to be cleared of all these made-up charges but I am ready for any outcome,” she said, calling the courts unpredictable and lacking independence.

During her trial, Ms Rwigara denounced the charges against her as politically motivated.

Mr Kagame is praised for leading Rwanda’s recovery from the 1994 genocide and for advances in economic development and women’s rights, but critics say he does not tolerate criticism. His government rejects such accusations.

Ms Rwigara last year acknowledged the risks of running against Mr Kagame, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Soon after she announced her intention to run, nude photos purportedly of her that she said had been manipulated were published on social media in what her supporters called an effort to undermine her credibility.

Ms Rwigara later was disqualified from running, with the government saying she lacked enough supporting signatures and had forged some of them.

Mr Kagame won a third term with more than 98% of the vote.

Press Association

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