Rwanda opposition leader freed

Victoire Ingabire

Victoire Ingabire

When Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire learned that she was going to be released from jail, she couldn’t believe the news.

The 49-year-old leader of the opposition FDU-Inkingi party had served eight years of her 15-year sentence but there had been no sign of an early release.

Yet on September 15, Ingabire, along with more than 2,100 other Rwandan prisoners, was granted a pardon by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

In her first moments of freedom, Ingabire called on the government to free other political prisoners, including members of her own party and another imprisoned opposition leader, Diane Rwigara.

Despite Kagame’s recent assurances that he is ready to work with the opposition, Ingabire told CNN she is waiting for the time when members of the opposition can “be free and speak out without fear.”

In 2010 Ingabire returned to Rwanda from the Netherlands, where she was living in exile, to contest the presidential election.

But shortly after, she was arrested following comments she made in relation to the country’s 1994 genocide, when, over the course of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people — primarily from the Tutsi group — were murdered.

Moderate Hutus were also killed in the three-month bloodshed. Some two million people fled the country.

At a Gisozi Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the Tutsi victims of the genocide, Ingabire questioned why there was no mention of the Hutu victims of the genocide and called for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes committed against those Hutus, which ultimately led to her arrest on charges that included collaborating with a terrorist organisation, “divisionism,” “minimising the genocide” and “genocide ideology.”

Ingabire was initially handed an eight-year prison sentence that was later extended to 15 years after the prosecution appealed.

Kagame went on to win the 2010 election with 93 per cent of the vote.

Ingabire has long said her sentence was a result of her work as a prominent government critic and that the charges effectively criminalised her freedom of expression.

International organisations such as Amnesty International and a 2017 African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruling have supported those views.

“I was jailed because I wanted to participate in the presidential election,” Ingabire says.

Today, Ingabire says that although she might have chosen a different location to speak about the deaths of moderate Hutus in the genocide, she will not back down from her comments. -CNN

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