Rwanda’s prosecution has urged a court to lock away government critic Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline Mukangemana Rwigara for 22 years each as opposition politicians and human rights groups call on Kigali to drop the charges ahead of the December 6 ruling.
Ms Rwigara is facing charges of inciting insurrection against the government and forgery of electoral documents, on account of which she was disqualified from the presidential race in 2017. Her mother faces charges of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.
Opposition politicians and human rights watchdogs say the charges faced by the two women relate to freedom of expression and should not lead to heavy sentences handed to the former presidential hopeful and her mother, Adeline Mukangemana, wife of deceased businessman Assinapol Rwigara.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Richard Sezibera answered Kigali’s critics on Twitter by saying that Diane Rwigara “is not facing jail for speaking up but for activities deemed criminal under our laws.”
He added that while it may appear strange to critics; “In Rwanda, we do not elect suspected criminals. They face trial in our courts of law.”
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement as the trial resumed that the right to freedom of expression must not be put on trial.
“The right to freedom of expression must not be put on trial as Rwanda’s courts hear the Rwigaras’ case,” she said, adding “Politicians must be allowed to explain their policies, and, like everyone else, engage with and criticise those of their opponents.”
Amnesty International also called for on Rwandan authorities to ensure the Rwigaras’ right to a fair trial on other charges is guaranteed, as stipulated in the country’s Constitution and international law.
At the seven-hour hearing last week, the state attorneys focused on audio and video clips and documents confiscated from the Rwigaras’ home and office last September when they were arrested.
The prosecution said the evidence pointed to their intention to foment insurrection against the government.
“We request that Diane Rwigara be imprisoned for 15 years for inciting insurrection and seven years for forging documents,” prosecutors told the High Court.
Ms Rwigara denied the forgery claims, saying they were meant to derail her from challenging President Paul Kagame in the elections.
She also defiantly told the court that she stood by her remarks about the government's human rights violations and that they reflected her political journey. She said she was calling on Rwandans to “resist fear and speak for our country.”