Rwan­dan court drops all charges against op­po­si­tion fig­ure

Pres­i­dent faces pres­sure to give more space to crit­ics in highly con­trolled na­tion

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KIGALI, RWANDA—RWANDA’S high court on Thurs­day ac­quit­ted the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion fig­ure of all charges re­lated to her elec­tion chal­lenge of Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, as judges said the prose­cu­tion failed to pro­vide proof of in­sur­rec­tion and forgery.

Diane Rwigara’s case has drawn global at­ten­tion as Kagame again faces pres­sure to give more space to crit­ics in this highly con­trolled East

African coun­try.

Rwigara’s mother, Ade­line, 59, also was ac­quit­ted of in­cit­ing in­sur­rec­tion and pro­mot­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism. Both women had de­nied the charges.

The court­room, packed with diplo­mats and sup­port­ers, erupted in ap­plause as Diane Rwigara and her mother were over­come with tears. Ex­cited rel­a­tives who had prayed be­fore the hear­ing for pro­tec­tion swarmed them with hugs.

The 37-year-old Rwigara, who had de­nounced the charges as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, had faced 22 years in prison if con­victed. She was ar­rested af­ter try­ing to run in last year’s elec­tion, and is a rare per­son to pub­licly crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment from in­side the coun­try.

“I will con­tinue my cam­paign

to fight Diane Rwigara, the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion fig­ure, is hugged by a well-wisher af­ter be­ing ac­quit­ted of charges re­lated to her elec­tion chal­lenge of Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, at the high court in Kigali.

for the rights of all Rwan­dans,” a sur­prised but happy Rwigara told re­porters af­ter cel­e­brat­ing. “This is

the be­gin­ning, be­cause there’s still a lot that needs to be done in our coun­try.” She said she will move ahead with her Peo­ple Sal­va­tion Move­ment, an ac­tivist group launched shortly be­fore her ar­rest to en­cour­age Rwan­dans to hold their

The small coun­try’s traf­fic con­ges­tion has be­gun to ri­val that of New York City. Learn more at thes­tar.com/world

gov­ern­ment ac­count­able. And she thanked ev­ery­one who pres­sured the gov­ern­ment to free her.

U.S. sen­a­tors in re­cent days urged Rwanda’s gov­ern­ment to drop the charges against her, with Sen. Dick Durbin not­ing “what ap­pears to be highly ques­tion­able charges against Rwigara for seem­ingly run­ning for of­fice peace­fully.” Rwanda’s jus­tice min­is­ter and at­tor­ney gen­eral in a state­ment said the gov­ern­ment re­spects the ver­dict and “will care­fully study its im­pli­ca­tions.”

But it added: “We con­demn all at­tempts by ex­ter­nal ac­tors to in­ap­pro­pri­ately in­flu­ence ju­di­cial pro­cesses in Rwanda.”

The three-judge panel said there was no proof that Rwan­dans had been in­cited against the state af­ter Rwigara’s re­marks to the me­dia, and that in­ter­cepted What­sapp au­dio files of her mother did not in­cite in­sur­rec­tion and in­stead were pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

Some Rwan­dans in the cap­i­tal, Kigali, said they were shocked by the court’s de­ci­sion. “I thought the gov­ern­ment was an­gered by Rwigara’s crit­i­cism and she would be con­victed,” said Moses Hirwa, a me­chanic.

Ahead of her court ap­pear­ance, Rwigara re­mained de­fi­ant, say­ing no amount of pres­sure will si­lence her. “I hope to be cleared of all th­ese made-up charges but I am ready for any out­come,” she said, call­ing the courts un­pre­dictable and lack­ing in­de­pen­dence.

Kagame is praised for lead­ing Rwanda’s re­cov­ery from the 1994 geno­cide and for ad­vances in eco­nomic devel­op­ment and women’s rights, but crit­ics say he does not tol­er­ate crit­i­cism. His gov­ern­ment re­jects such ac­cu­sa­tions.

Gov­ern­ment par­doned ac­tivists in Septem­ber. More at thes­tar.com/world

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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