Rwanda has been arresting and threatening political opponents since President Paul Kagame was re-elected in August, in a repressive response detailed on Friday by the Human Rights Watch organization.
“The Rwandan government’s crackdown shows that it is unwilling to tolerate criticism or accept a role for opposition parties, and it sends a chilling message to those who would dare challenge the status quo,” said HRW Central Africa director Ida Sawyer in a statement. “With each arrest in Rwanda, fewer and fewer people will dare to speak out against state policy or abuse.”
Those arrests include the high-profile case of presidential aspirant Diane Rwigara, whose hopes of running against Kagame were derailed, but also other opposition political party members. Rwigara and family members have been in police custody since September 23 after weeks of surveillance, lengthy disappearances and interrogation. Rwigara has said her family is targeted “for criticizing the government” and warned of the intimidation and harassment in media interviews several times.
Yet her arrest is one among many, as seven members of the opposition FDU-Inkingi party also have been arrested this month. The party has not been allowed to participate in elections, HRW said, and its president has been in prison since 2010. The rights group has documented a number of cases in which dissent is met with detention, torture, and lengthy prison sentences.
“The government is using its standard playbook to crush dissent,” Sawyer said. “Rwanda’s donors and other international actors should condemn this blatant clampdown on the political opposition.”
Image: Diane Shima Rwigara file