Rwanda: Opposition leader must receive fair trial

Amnesty International urges the Rwandan Government to ensure that opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, receives a swift, fair trial on charges including genocide ideology and collaboration with a “terrorist” group. It is also seeking to ensure that Victoire is not punished for her legitimate right to exercise freedom of expression.

Victoire Ingabire – President of the United Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi) who plans to stand in presidential elections in August this year – was arrested on 21 April after being summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, the previous day.  This was her sixth summons by the police this year.   

Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director, Erwin van der Borght said:

“We’ve documented a number of incidents of intimidation and harassment of opposition groups in Rwanda in recent months. Now with the arrest of a potential presidential candidate a few months ahead of the election, we call on the government to demonstrate that this is not another such case”.

Ingabire was charged with “genocide ideology” and “minimising the genocide”, “divisionism” and “collaboration with a “terrorist” group”, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).  She has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

On 22 April, the court ruled that Ingabire could be released on condition that she does not travel outside of Kigali while proceedings against her are underway.

The Rwandan authorities had already prevented Ingabire from travelling to Europe last month due to ongoing police investigations.

The “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” charges relate to speeches Ingabire made on her arrival back in Rwanda in January and in Europe where she spent 16 years in exile in the Netherlands and formed the FDU-Inkingi party.  

Government officials have over recent months claimed that comments made by Ingabire at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial on 16 January 2010 amount to “genocide denial” and “divisionism” or promoting ethnic division.  In her speech, she called for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Hutu by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), as well as commemoration of Hutu victims killed during the war.   

Erwin van der Borght said:

“The onus will be on the prosecution to prove that there is credible, solid evidence to justify the charges against Ingabire. The prosecutor will have to demonstrate that what she said actually constitutes advocacy of hatred and that they are not punishing her for political dissent.”

A Rwandan law promulgated in October 2008 criminalises “genocide ideology” in vague and ambiguous terms which unduly stifle freedom of expression.  The Rwandan Government appears to have recognised that aspects of the genocide ideology law may be problematic and, according to Rwanda News Agency, the Cabinet is currently reviewing this law.

Erwin van der Borght added:

“The government must demonstrate that Ingabire herself committed recognisably criminal acts and that this is not a case of guilt by association. “

Amnesty urges the Rwandan Government to ensure that Ingabire is tried promptly and in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Background

Amnesty International strongly condemned harassment and intimidation of opposition groups, including the Green Party and the Ideal Social Party, in February 2010.   
A member of Ingabire’s party, Joseph Ntawangundi, was severely beaten in a government building on 3 February 2010, as he accompanied Ingabire to collect documents needed for the party’s registration.  
 
Recent months have seen a number of government measures against critics and opponents including restrictions on freedom of expression.  On 23 April, Rwandan immigration rejected a work visa re-application by the Rwanda-based researcher for the international human rights group, Human Rights Watch.

On 13 April, the High Media Council (HMC) suspended two Kinyarwanda newspapers known for being critical of the government, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, until after the elections.  The HMC alleged that Umuseso had insulted the President and caused trouble in the army that could lead to insubordination.

The 2003 presidential elections and the 2008 legislative elections in Rwanda were marred by intimidation and political opposition activities were severely restricted

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