Rwandan Court Clears Kagame Critic of Inciting Rebellion

(Bloomberg) -- A Rwandan court acquitted an aspiring presidential contender and fierce critic of President Paul Kagame of charges of inciting a public insurrection and forging electoral documents.

Diane Rwigara, a women’s rights activist, was arrested in September 2017 and detained for more than a year before receiving bail in October. Her mother, Adeline, was also acquitted of charges of inciting violence and conspiring to incite an insurrection.

The acquittal could be a sign of widening political space in the East African nation where rights activists say dissent is not tolerated. Authorities reject the criticism and point to the landlocked country’s economic revival since the coming to power of Kagame, a former rebel leader who ended the genocide in which about 800,000 people died.

In September, another presidential aspirant, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, received pardon from a 15-year jail term. Umuhoza was convicted in 2013 for conspiring against the government.

“We were innocent,” Rwigara, 37, said in an interview in the capital, Kigali, shortly after the ruling by Judge John Byakatonda. “I plan to continue my political career because what I was advocating for hasn’t changed, especially poverty in the country.”

Rwigara says her incarceration was politically motivated because of her decision to vie against Kagame at elections held in August 2017, an allegation authorities deny. Rwanda changed its constitution in 2015 to enable Kagame, who became president in 2000, to seek a third term.

In March, the Rwanda Revenue Authority sold Premier Tobacco Co., a firm owned by the Rwigara family, after it failed to pay $6 million in taxes and debt to banks.

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