Rwandan politician jailed for ‘minimising genocide’
RWANDA’S high court has sentenced the leading opposition politician to eight years in prison, in a case linked to the 1994 genocide and seen as a test of the judiciary’s independence.
Victoire Ingabire, leader of the unregistered FDU-Inkingi party, had faced six charges and was yesterday found guilty of two: conspiring to harm the country through war and terror and minimising the genocide.
Ms Ingabire had pleaded not guilty. She was accused of transferring money to FDLR Hutu rebels and of questioning why no Hutu victims were mentioned in a genocide memorial.
More than 800,000 people were killed in the central African country when an ethnic Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day killing spree in April 1994, indiscriminately killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Ms Ingabire, a Hutu, returned to Rwanda in January 2010 from exile in the Netherlands to contest presidential elections, but was barred from standing after being accused of crimes linked to genocide denial. The vote was won overwhelmingly by president Paul Kagame.
“That’s the problem I have with this government. If you talk about ethnicity, they say you are a divisionist,” Ms Ingabire said in a 2010 interview after she was put under house arrest. “I think the better solution is you talk about it and find a solution.”
In mid-April, Ms Ingabire began to boycott the trial, saying her “trust in the judiciary has waned”.
Iain Edwards, her British lawyer, argued that the evidence against her was fabricated and that some of the charges were against Rwanda’s constitution.
Mr Edwards said she would appeal against the verdict.
“I’m not surprised, [but I am] disappointed. I firmly believe that she should have been acquitted of all of the counts on the indictment,” he said.
“But we will go to appeal on what it is that she has been convicted of,” he said.
“She will be disappointed …but she’s an intelligent person who recognises that the likelihood of her being acquitted of all of these allegations was unlikely.”
Mr Kagame’s final presidential term expires in 2017. He has led his country’s recovery from the 1994 genocide, receiving praise for his efforts to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020.
But critics accuse him of being authoritarian and trampling on media and political freedoms.
Though Rwanda appears serene on the surface, Ms Ingabire’s political party – FDU-Inkingi – calls Mr Kagame a dictator. The party urged Rwandans to stay calm and “to get ready for the day to march until freedom is won”.
Party leader Boniface Twagirimana said in a statement: “This is a conclusion of a long chapter of hope that the current dictatorship would understand how important peace, genuine unity and sustainable reconciliation are.
“Political space in Rwanda barely exists, I would say, for opposition parties in the real sense of the word,” said Carina Tertsakian, senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
“The verdict today is the culmination of a long and flawed trial for Victoire Ingabire, which included several charges that in our view were politically motivated.”
Ms Ingabire was arrested by Rwandan police on October 14 after they said investigations into a former rebel commander facing terrorism charges had also implicated her.
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