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Rwanda: Ingabire trial 'flawed and international standards flouted' as appeal launched

New report criticises opposition leader’s initial trial on day her appeal starts

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire must be allowed an appeal that meets international fair trial standards, Amnesty International said on the day the jailed opposition leader’s appeal is due to open. 

Victoire Ingabire, President of the United Democratic Forces - Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) was convicted on charges of conspiracy to harm the authorities using terrorism and denying the1994 genocide. She was convicted and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in October. Amnesty said the appeal must rectify a number of problems which occurred in the initial trial, documented in the new report: Justice in Jeopardy: The first instance trial of Victoire Ingabire.

The report shows how prejudicial public statements made by the Rwandan President in advance of her trial, and a reliance on confessions from detainees in Camp Kami where torture is alleged to be used, marred her original trial. Amnesty does not take a position on Ingabire’s culpability.

Amnesty’s Africa Programme Deputy Director Sarah Jackson said:

“Victoire Ingabire’s initial trial was flawed and international standards were flouted.

“Amnesty International has documented allegations of torture and ill-treatment of individuals in Camp Kami.  The fact that at least two men tried alongside Victoire Ingabire were detained there for months before incriminating her is cause for serious concern and needs to be looked into.

“Looking at the evidence in the trial, Amnesty International cannot see how Victoire Ingabire intended to incite ethnic hatred or violence.

“The government has pledged to revise the ‘genocide ideology’ law in line with Rwanda’s obligations under international law. Following through on this would be a positive move.

“Critics of the Rwandan authorities have been harassed, intimidated and imprisoned.  A fair appeal will show that political trials will be dealt with independently.”

From the start of the investigation, President Paul Kagame made public statements about Ingabire’s guilt in the media and on Twitter which were at odds with her right to the presumption of innocence. 

The terrorism charges she faced were based in large part on confessions from her co-accused that came after a period of military detention in Camp Kami, where torture is alleged to be used.

The report found that the court did not effectively investigate allegations of torture.

Amnesty observed most of the trial from September 2011 to April 2012 and recorded numerous instances where Ingabire was unfairly treated.

The judges in the trial appeared confrontational towards the defence and the defendant was regularly interrupted or reprimanded by the judges. Evidence put forward by the defence and the prosecution was treated differently; while the defence's evidence was repeatedly called into question, basic questions in relation to the prosecution's evidence were not asked. 

Meanwhile, speech-related charges faced by Ingabire were based on vague and imprecise laws punishing “genocide ideology” and “discrimination and sectarianism”. Amnesty’s report suggests that the defence would have found it difficult to know how Ingabire’s conduct was deemed criminal.

The laws Ingabire was charged under were introduced to restrict speech that could promote hatred in the years following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. However, Amnesty has found that the vague wording of these laws has regularly been misused to criminalise freedom of expression and dissent.

Ingabire, President of the United Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi), came to Rwanda in January 2010 to participate in the presidential elections.

Ingabire was brought to trial along with Vital Uwumuremyi, Tharcisse Nditurende, Noel Habiyaremye and Jean Marie Vianney Karuta, all former members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group operating in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The prosecution alleged that she conspired with them to form an armed group called the Coalition of Democratic Forces (CDF) whose objective was to destabilise Rwanda.  All four of her co-accused pleaded guilty, made confessions and sought leniency from the court. 

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