Kagame critic 'not guilty' of inciting insurrection

Court rules Rwigara's criticism of the government was an exercise of freedom of expression

Court rules Rwigara's criticism of the government was an exercise of freedom of expression

Diane Rwigara, a critic of veteran Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was acquitted by Rwanda's high court on Thursday of charges that included inciting insurrection and forging of documents.

Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline hugged supporters as cheers broke out in the packed courtroom in the capital Kigali while the verdict was read out.

But it is also hard to ignore the fact that there was global pressure, including from the US Congress, to drop charges against her - not that Rwandan authorities are in the habit of listening to external voices. A three-judge panel described the charges as "baseless".

Ms Rwigara, 37, was arrested in September 2017 after her attempt to run in Rwanda's July presidential election was denied on grounds she had allegedly forged signatures of supporters for her bid.

The court ruled that Diane Rwigara did not incite violence and was only exercising her freedom of speech when she criticised the presidency in her press conferences during her stint as presidential candidate hopeful.

Rwigara later was disqualified from running, with the government saying she lacked enough supporting signatures and had forged some of them.

The court ruled Adeline was merely exercising her right to freedom of speech in a private manner.

Ingabire leads an unregistered opposition party, the FDU-Inkigi, and she was freed along with several other prisoners, including singer Kizito Mihigo, convicted and jailed in 2015 for plotting to kill Kagame.

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Opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was released from prison this year having served time for "conspiracy against the country through terrorism and war" and "genocide denial".

Since her arrest, Ms Rwigara's family have been subject to interrogations and their family assets forcibly auctioned. She was blocked from competing, arrested, tried and jailed for six years.

"Diane and Adeline Rwigara should never have faced charges for expressing their views".

Amnesty International welcomed the court's decision. "While we welcome their discharge and acquittal, we are concerned that the right to freedom of expression remains under attack in Rwanda", the rights group said in a statement.

"We call on the Rwandan authorities to build on this judgment and work towards developing greater tolerance and acceptance of alternative and critical views". "The judgement must be a first step in reversing the ongoing trend of repression in Rwanda".

Kagame has won worldwide praise for presiding over a peaceful and rapid economic recovery in Rwanda since the genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

He became president in 2000, a post he might hold until 2034 thanks to a constitutional amendment made three years ago. She was not allowed to run and Kagame won a third term with 99% of the vote in the August 2017 elections.

Paul Kagame, the country's towering, beanpole-like president, has been widely praised for his role in providing stability and economic growth after Rwanda's catastrophic genocide in 1994.

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