30 October 2012

Rwanda: Eight Years for Victoire Ingabire

Photo: Victoire-Ingabire
Rwandan opposition politician Victoire Ingabire speaks with her lawyer.

Rwandan opposition politician Victoire Ingabire has been sentenced to eight years in prison by the Rwandan High Court, according to local journalists in Kigali.

This is seen as a relatively mild sentence as the prosecutor was demanding life imprisonment. Ingabire's British lawyer Iain Edwards said she will lodge an appeal.

Ingabire, the president of UDF-Inkingi, has been found guilty of treason and genocide denial. She was convicted of financing a terrorist group, the FDLR rebels in eastern DRC, but cleared on several other charges.

What her daughter has to say

The verdict has clearly been influenced by the international pressure on the Rwandan government, says Ingabire's daughter Raissa.

"Without that, my mother's situation would be worse, much worse," she says. Raissa, who lives and goes to school in the Netherlands, is not happy with the eight-year sentence and continues to insist her mother is innocent.

In Rwanda, the vice-president of UDF-Inkingi, Boniface Twagirimana, is not satisfied either. Ingabire deserves to be a free woman, he says. "Just like all political opponents in this country who have been accused of similar crimes," he notes.

President of Rwanda

After spending years in exile in the Netherlands, Ingabire, who is part of the Hutu community, returned to Rwanda with the intention of running in the 2010 presidential elections. When she arrived in Kigali, as chairman of the Unified Democratic Forces (UDF), she called for the prosecution of those responsible for crimes against Hutus. Shortly after making her statement, she was placed under house arrest. Meanwhile, incumbent President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was re-elected.

Ingabire was arrested in her Kigali home on 14 October 2010 for allegedly collaborating with a terrorist organization, dividing the people of Rwanda and denying the 1994 genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over a roughly 100-day period.

Fair trial?

Detained in a prison in the Rwandan capital, Ingabire had boycotted her trial since April of this year. The opposition leader and her supporters accuse Kagame of trying to eliminate all political opponents.

Human rights activists and foreign politicians have expressed doubts as to whether Ingabire was given a fair trial. Rwandan minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama told RNW: "It's after the trial that we should be able to say whether it was fair or transparent."

Dutch MPs have also repeatedly raised questions about the rule of law in Rwanda.

Dutch authorities have assisted the Rwandan government several times by authorizing searches of her home near Rotterdam and dispatching documents to be used in evidence at the trial in Kigali. Rwanda and the Netherlands have a judicial assistance agreement.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in documents published in 2011, wrote that it had no reason to doubt that Ingabire was being given a fair trial. "There is no clear and solid ground to reject Rwanda's request for assistance in the trial of Victoire Ingabire," wrote the Ministry.

Return to our site tomorrow for an interview with Raissa, Victoire Ingabire's daughter in the Netherlands.

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