Diane Rwigara: Woman faced 22 years in jail for criticising her government
08 December, 2018, 19:33
Activists Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline have been acquitted of all charges brought against them.
The outspoken young politician was an unusual voice of criticism in tightly run Rwanda ahead of the August 2017 election and had already been the victim of a smear campaign when nude pictures, purporting to be of her, were shared online. Excited relatives who had prayed before the hearing for protection swarmed them with hugs. "I am extremely happy and I now have the energy and the zeal to continue my passion of fighting for freedom of expression and human rights in Rwanda", Rwigara told AFP. "There are still many political prisoners in the country", Reuters reports Ms Rwigara as saying. And she thanked everyone who pressured the government to free her.
But it added: "We condemn all attempts by external actors to inappropriately influence judicial processes in Rwanda".
Speaking to Sky News hours before the verdict was announced, Ms Rwigara said she was targeted by the state because she is prepared to challenge Kagame and his ruling clique.
Some Rwandans in the capital, Kigali, said they were shocked by the court's decision.
Critics still see Ms Rwigara's arrest and detention, and the auctioning of her assets, as a continuation of a trend of intimidation against anyone who opposes the government.
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She would later be denied a chance to run in the presidential race before being arrested over a year ago.
"I hope to be cleared of all these made-up charges but I am ready for any outcome", she said earlier this week. Amnesty International has called on the Rwandan judiciary to ensure that Diane Rwigara's trial does not become another means to persecute government critics.
The acquittal could be a sign of widening political space in the East African nation where rights activists say dissent is not tolerated.
Kagame is largely credited with the development and stability that Rwanda has experienced since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed; he has also spearheaded gender equality, and 61% of parliamentarians are women.
It also ruled that although the documents presented to the national electoral commission had indications of forged signatures, it was upon the prosecution to prove that she personally meant to forge the signatures, which it did not. Kagame won a third term with more than 98 percent of the vote.
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