Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Diane Rwigara: Woman faced 22 years in jail for criticising her government

Diane Rwigara: Woman faced 22 years in jail for criticising her government Rwanda high court acquits Kagame critic, Diane Rwigara
Melinda Barton | 08 December, 2018, 19:34

"I am extremely happy and I now have the energy and the zeal to continue my passion of fighting for freedom of expression and human rights in Rwanda", Rwigara told AFP.

Since Rwigara's arrest previous year, her brothers and sister have been interrogated, family assets have been forcibly auctioned to pay off a multi-million dollar tax claim, while a hotel the family owned was demolished for allegedly failing to abide by city guidelines.

Her mother, Adeline, was also acquitted of charges of inciting violence and conspiring to incite an insurrection.

Rwigara says her incarceration was politically motivated because of her decision to vie against Kagame at elections held in August 2017, an allegation authorities deny.

But in a surprise judgment, the court found that both members of the Rwigara family were innocent. "This is the beginning, because there's still a lot that needs to be done in our country".

USA senators in recent days urged the Rwandan government to drop the charges against her.

Speaking to Sky News hours before the verdict was announced, Ms Rwigara said she was targeted by the state because she is prepared to challenge Kagame and his ruling clique.

Her bail comes days after Kagame gave clemency to 2,140 convicts, including a woman who had also tried to run against him in the 2010 polls; Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of her court appearance, Rwigara remained defiant, saying no amount of pressure will silence her.

After spending one year in a Rwandan prison waiting for the country's high court to decide on her case, Diane Rwigara feared the worst. "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. Amnesty International has called on the Rwandan judiciary to ensure that Diane Rwigara's trial does not become another means to persecute government critics.

The judges ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that Ms Rwigara had personally forged signatures. "There are still many political prisoners in the country". Kagame won a third term in office with 98% of the vote.

Kagame has won worldwide praise for presiding over a peaceful and rapid economic recovery in Rwanda since the genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.