Rwandan authorities sold assets belonging to family of a woman barred from standing against President Paul Kagame in an election last year and then jailed pending trial for alleged incitement to insurrection.
The sale is a fresh blow to Diane Rwigara, who accuses Kagame of stifling dissent and criticises his Rwandan Patriotic Front’s grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end genocide in 1994.
The revenue authority sold the stock of Premier Tobacco Company owned by Rwigara’s family to another tobacco company for around 500 million Rwandan francs ($577,842.29) and said it was recovering unpaid back taxes.
Rwigara’s sister Anne said the auction and charges of incitement and forgery aim to punish the family because Rwigara challenged Kagame and to deter other potential opponents.
She said the company’s stock is worth about a billion francs. This year the family filed a court case saying the revenue authority illegally seized company assets.
“This is banditry in a country of so-called rule of law. Since the 1980s our father worked hard to get this factory. Over 35 years of hard work and now in three hours you take it away,” Anne Rwigara told a court bailiff and tax body officials.
The revenue authority’s director general Richard Tusabe told Reuters the auction was legal and not politically motivated.
“There are more assets to be sold. We need to sell more to recover government funds. The key is to recover government funds,” he said.
Kagame won international credit for restoring stability in Rwanda and presiding over a rapid economic recovery after the genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate ethnic Hutus were killed.
Human rights groups and some others say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed potential democratic opponents. Kagame won the August election with 98.8% of the vote.