With Thursday’s announcement that Rwandan opposition activist and former presidential hopeful Diane Shima Rwigara and her mother have been acquitted on all charges, the NGO Amnesty International said the decision underscores the need for Rwanda to improve its human rights record.
“Diane and Adeline Rwigara should never have faced charges for expressing their views,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “While we welcome their discharge and acquittal, we are concerned that the right to freedom of expression remains under attack in Rwanda.”
The decision, made by the High Court in Kigali, must be a “first step in reversing the ongoing trend of repression in Rwanda” and a moment to build on, to improve tolerance and acceptance of opposition views.
The court ruled that private communications never shared with the public failed to prove the intent to cause insurrection, and no other evidence constituted a crime for which the women faced 22 years. Evidence on the forgery charge also was not substantive enough to warrant conviction.
Rwandan authorities confirmed the arrest of Rwigara in September 2017 after a family member was unable to communicate with her and other Rwigara family for several days. The worst fears were confirmed when police said she faced forgery charges related to her campaign, and the family – one with a history of crossing authoritarian President Paul Kagame – was under scrutiny for tax evasion.
Rwigara complained that after Rwanda’s National Electoral Commission disqualified her from competing against Kagame in national elections, her bank accounts were frozen and her family business was closed when authorities “suddenly remembered” an outstanding tax debt of USD$6.7 million.
That followed a pattern of harassment Rwigara claimed during the run-up to elections. Her subsequent decision to launch a new People’s Salvation Movement appeared to be the last straw, and Rwigara and her mother were taken into custody shortly after her movement’s introduction.
Image: People’s Salvation Movement file