Free at last, Rwigara vows to con­tinue fight

Ac­quit­tal is praised by op­po­si­tion, rights group as State de­nies for­eign hand in the High Court ver­dict

The East African - - NEWS - By IVAN R. MUGISHA

The ac­quit­tal of Rwan­dan politi­cian Diane Rwigara has in­vig­o­rated the op­po­si­tion to de­mand a re­view of cases of other politi­cians even as the gov­ern­ment re­futed claims that ex­ter­nal pres­sure had in­flu­enced the court’s de­ci­sion.

The 37-year-old ac­coun­tant, who was charged with in­cit­ing in­sur­rec­tion and forgery, was set free along­side her mother Ade­line, by the High Court in Kigali on Thurs­day.

“We find that the pros­e­cu­tion charges do not have a ba­sis and find Diane Rwigara and Ade­line Rwigara not guilty on all charges,” stated the ver­dict of the three-judge Bench.

Ms Rwigara, a fierce critic of the gov­ern­ment who tried to chal­lenge Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame for the pres­i­dency, had spent close to a year in de­ten­tion. She was ar­rested and charged shortly af­ter be­ing dis­qual­i­fied from vy­ing for pres­i­dent in Septem­ber 2017.

The court ruled that Diane did not incite vi­o­lence and was only ex­er­cis­ing her right of speech when she crit­i­cised the pres­i­dent in her press con­fer­ences dur­ing her stint as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date hope­ful.

Her mother, too, was ac­quit­ted of charges of pro­mot­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism, eth­nic divi­sion and in­cit­ing vi­o­lence.

The four ac­cused rel­a­tives who are not in the coun­try were also cleared of all charges.

“The charges against both Diane Rwigara and Ade­line Rwigara do not have a ba­sis and we find them not guilty on all charges,” Pre­sid­ing Judge Xavier Nda­hayo said.

Both women had been granted bail ear­lier in Oc­to­ber.

Shortly af­ter be­ing de­clared free, Diane ad­dressed the me­dia in­side the small court­room: “I am free and happy fi­nally. I hope this means that the per­se­cu­tion I and my fam­ily have faced is over and that I have the lib­erty to speak my mind. That is what I will con­tinue to fight for across the coun­try.”

The pros­e­cu­tion con­ceded, but im­plied it would still con­sider its op­tions. It has 30 days to ap­peal.

“The Pros­e­cu­tion re­spects court de­ci­sions. We will re­view de­tails of to­day’s judg­ment in the case of Diane Rwigara et al, and con­sider our op­tions,” the pros­e­cu­tion au­thor­ity said in a state­ment.

The Green Party, an op­po­si­tion party that won its first ever seat in par­lia­ment in the polls, wel­comed the de­ci­sion as a good prece­dent for po­lit­i­cal

op­po­nents in the coun­try.

“We are very pleased that Diane Rwigara and her mother Ade­line have been ac­quit­ted of all charges. This is a good prece­dent for the ex­er­cise of dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal opin­ions. Im­pris­oned politi­cians also need a chance to re-ap­peal their cases,” Frank Habineza, leader of The Green Party told The Eastafrican.

“The out­come of this trial also means that crit­i­cal op­pos­ing views are not a crime, and no one should per­ceive them as that again in the fu­ture.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional wel­comed the High Court's de­ci­sion and called on the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment to work “to­wards de­vel­op­ing greater tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance of al­ter­na­tive and crit­i­cal views.”

“Diane and Ade­line Rwigara should never have faced charges for ex­press­ing their views. While we wel­come their dis­charge and ac­quit­tal, we are con­cerned that the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion re­mains un­der at­tack in Rwanda,” the rights group said in a state­ment.

The ver­dict came at a time of mount­ing pres­sure from the US, with sev­eral mem­bers of Congress call­ing on gov­ern­ment to re­lease both women.

Fol­low­ing the rul­ing, the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and At­tor­ney Gen­eral John­ston Bus­ingye said in a state­ment that the gov­ern­ment re­spected the court's ver­dict but warned those at­tempt­ing to ex­ert in­flu­ence ex­ter­nally.

“We con­demn all at­tempts by ex­ter­nal ac­tors to in­ap­pro­pri­ately in­flu­ence ju­di­cial pro­cesses in Rwanda. We will con­tinue to vig­or­ously en­force our laws on elec­toral in­tegrity, pub­lic safety, and re­spect for the Ju­di­ciary,” Min­is­ter Bus­ingye said in a state­ment.

Pic­ture: AFP

Diane Rwigara mobbed by sup­port­ers as she left the Kigali High Court upon her ac­quit­tal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.