Bail for Rwandan presidential critic


A Rwandan high court judge ordered the release on bail of an opposition activist and her mother detained last year on charges of incitement after she was barred from standing against President Paul Kagame in elections.

Diane Rwigara, a 37-year-old accountant, repeatedly accused Kagame of stifling dissent and criticised his Rwandan Patriotic Front’s near total hold on power since it fought its way to office to end the genocide in 1994.

She planned to run against Kagame in an August but her candidacy was blocked by the electoral board on the grounds she had not submitted sufficient supporters’ signatures and some she did submit were forged.

She and her mother were detained and later charged with incitement. Their trial began last year.

Judge Claire Bukuba at the Rwandan High Court ordered the immediate release on bail of Rwigara and her mother, dismissing the prosecution claim they posed a risk to national security.

She banned the pair from leaving Kigali without authorisation from the public prosecutor.

Kagame is praised for restoring stability in Rwanda and for rapid economic progress after the genocide in 1994, but rights groups say he muzzled independent media and suppressed opponents. Government dismisses the accusations as false.

As Bukuba read out her ruling to a courtroom packed with diplomats, journalists and relatives of the women, her decision was greeted with cheers and cries of “Praise to God!”

Rwigara told Reuters after arriving at her home she would continue pursuing her political ambitions despite her jail experience.
“My political ambitions are just starting. This was a break. I am continuing my political journey. My political journey goes on. I am not stopping my political career. I want to change the way the country is governed no matter the cost.”

Rwigara’s sister Anne, a US citizen, was also charged last year with incitement but later granted bail. After the ruling, Anne told Reuters: “This should not have happened in the first place. They should not have been incarcerated. I don’t know if it is the end of harassment but we hope it is.”

A spokesman for Rwanda’s top prosecutor said the court decision was based on law and must be respected. “We will consider whether to challenge it or not and of course continue to prepare our trial,” Faustin Nkusi said.

The court ruling comes weeks after Rwanda freed Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader who served six years of a 15-year jail term, after Kagame exercised his power to grant a pardon.

After attending Friday’s court hearing, Ingabire said she was happy the Rwigara women were released. She called on government to release members of her political party still jailed and to release all other “political prisoners” in the country.
“I hope this is the beginning of opening of political space in Rwanda”, she said.

Ingabire leads an unregistered opposition party, the FDU-Inkigi, and was freed along with several other prisoners, including singer Kizito Mihigo, jailed in 2015 for plotting to kill Kagame.

Last month, two opposition MPs won seats in the country’s 80-seat parliament for the first time. The legislature is tightly controlled by Kagame’s ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF.