Rwanda tells US to keep off Rwigara trial

Saturday December 01 2018

Diane Rwigara (centre), a prominent critic of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, is escorted by police officers to the court room at the Nyarugenge intermediate court in Kigali on October 9, 2017. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

By The EastAfrican

Rwanda has told American politicians not to interfere with the Diane Rwigara trial and let local courts do their job.

Ms Rwigara, a fierce government critic, has received significant backing from American politicians much to the chagrin of Rwanda, ahead of the verdict on December 6.

She faces at least 22 years in jail if convicted of inciting insurrection against the government and forgery of electoral documents, charges brought up after she was disqualified from the presidential race in 2017.

Her mother, Adeline Rwigara, faces charges of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.

Several US Senators and Congressional human-rights bodies have called on the Rwandan government to drop the charges on the grounds that they are in violation of her freedom of expression, but Kigali has pushed back, urging them to respect the country’s judicial system.

The Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye, said “courts should not be pressured by third parties.”


“I don’t control Congressmen and women, but I know what happens in Rwanda, when matters are in court, they are court matters. I want to guess that is what happens in the US, but if it is the other way round, it is a different case in Rwanda,” he said.

“I do not know what motivates them. If in the US Congress dictates to courts what to do and it is okay, in Rwanda it is not,” Mr Busingye added.

His reaction came after criticism by top democrat lawmakers, such as Dick Durbin, the Senior Senator from Illinois, who stated on Twitter last week that he is “troubled by what appears to be highly questionable charges against Rwigara for seemingly running for office peacefully.”

Rwanda’s State Minister for East African Community Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe fired back, accusing the Senator of meddling.

“What is ‘highly questionable’ is for members of the US congress to just discover a case you don’t understand, a case of an African lady you have never heard about, and use it to meddle in a judicial procedure of an independent country, just to show that you have African credentials,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.

Another Senator, Ann Louise from Missouri, called on Rwanda to free Rwigara, on grounds that “peaceful political participation is not a crime.”

More pressure soon followed, from Senators Patrick Leahy and Barbara Jean Lee, who said that Rwigara and her mother Adeline are “being prosecuted for having the courage to speak up against corruption and autocracy.”

On Thursday, the US lawmakers on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission also called for Rwigara’s release.

In an interview with The EastAfrican, Ms Rwigara said that she is ready for any outcome, much as she hopes that the courts will drop the charges.

“I am thankful for the support I have received from both within and outside Rwanda. It is clear that many understand that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I hope to be cleared of all these charges, but I am ready for any outcome,” she said.