Rwandan President Paul Kagame has said the release of 2,140 convicts among them opposition leader Victoire Ingabire and popular singer Kizito Mihigo does not signal that the government is yielding to foreign influence.
President Kagame made the remarks when he was presiding over the swearing-in of the 80-member Fourth Parliament on Wednesday.
He said that granting the presidential pardon should not be interpreted as post-genocide Rwanda giving in to pressure to free political prisoners as some critics have claimed.
“If we did not give clemency, how many people would still be in prison? We would still have hundreds of thousands in jail. But to build our country, we made the decision to rehabilitate our citizens and enable them to contribute to our country,” he said.
“Even criminals, we find ways of accommodating them through rehabilitation so that they can also contribute to nation building,” he added.
The President, alluding to Ms Ingabire but not saying her name, warned that those who believe that they had been freed on account of foreign pressure could land back in prison.
“Just recently when we pardoned many people, including the so-called politicians who are more popular outside the country than they are here, it was in the same spirit. It is not the first time we have done this.”
“Then you see people saying ‘I did not ask for mercy, they released us because of pressure’. Pressure here? If you continue believing that, don’t be shocked if you go back to jail,” Mr Kagame said.
After her release on Saturday September 15, media reports quoted Ms Ingabire saying she did not “plead for mercy for crimes I didn’t commit.”
She had been sentenced to 15 years for sedition, treason and genocide ideology. She had served eight years of her prison term before her release.
Ms Ingabire had been arrested in 2010 soon after returning from exile in the Netherlands seeking to contest for the presidency.
“If you want proof that it is not pressure that works here but the right thinking, you will either find yourself back in jail or wandering outside the country because there is not much to do there,” President Kagame warned.
“If you want, you can humble yourself and work with us and others to build the nation. As a country, we are willing to work with everyone. Cooperation in the interest of the country is what we want,” he advised.
Ms Ingabire, the leader of the unregistered opposition FDU-Inkingi party, says she will be pushing for the opening up of the political space and the release of other political prisoners.
President Kagame told the newly sworn-in MPs, who include those from the main opposition Green Party represented in parliament for the first time, to hold government accountable in its service delivery.
He told the lawmakers to demand clean audit reports from government institutions and ensure that public resources are accounted for.
“We will not only keep you in jail but we will go after your properties, including those you registered in other people’s names to recover the missing funds,” he warned corrupt officials.