17 September 2018

Rwanda: Opposition Leader Demands Release of Jailed Political Opponents

Photo: Wouter Engler/Wikimedia Commons
Protesters in the Netherlands fall for the release of Victoire Ingabire (file photo).
interview

Rwanda's opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, has urged authorities to release political prisoners and open up political space for competitive politics.

In an exclusive interview with DW, Ingabire, the leader of the FDI-Inkingi party, vowed to continue with her political work. Ingabire was released on Saturday, after having been granted clemency from Rwandan President Paul Kagame. She had been sentenced to fifteen years after having been found guilty of terrorism and treason. She served only eight years, five of which were in solitary confinement.

DW: Was it a surprise to hear about your release?

Victoire Ingabire: Of course, I was surprised by the news. I heard it in the night and I didn't sleep because I didn't [believe] I would be released that soon.

Under what conditions were you jailed the years you spent behind bars?

It was difficult for me in [the first] five years because I was alone with nobody to speak to. But for the last three years, I was with the other prisoners that I could talk to. This was OK.

When you came out of prison on Saturday, you told local media that you believed the political space in Rwanda was opening up progressively. What did you mean by that?

What I meant was that the Democratic Green Party entered parliament last week [for the first time] and two weeks later I was released. And you know that the government released me in the period that my political party had announced that I had been re-elected as president of the party. The government knows that I am the leader of a political party in the opposition and if they accept to release me, I think they are trying to open the political space in Rwanda. And I hope that they will do more because you know that there are other opposition members in jail. And you know that Diane Rwigara is still there and so is Deo Mushayidi. I hope that they all will be released.

What do you think your political future will look like in Rwanda after eight years behind bars?

Our priority today is not to be registered as a political party but first to get security for everybody, because some of our members are still in prison. The others that are not in prison receive constant harassment. We have asked the government to stop this harassment and release all of our members that are in jail. Only then can we ask to register our political party.

Do you think having released you means President Kagame is really opening up the political space in Rwanda, or is this part of his political tactics?

I don't know if there is any other tactic [behind my release]. I still believe that he did it because he thinks it is time to open the political space in Rwanda because that is the only guarantee to the security, to the sustainable development in our country. And it is the better solution to better prepare the future generation of our country.

Earlier you mentioned Diane Rwigara who is still behind bars with her mother. What would be your support for her, if any?

We lived together in my last three months in prison. I will really try to ask the government to release her. She is a woman who tried to participate in the presidential elections like many who are being detained. And Rwanda is known as a country that promotes the rights of women and I think that the government will really take this opportunity and release her.

Are you following up your political agenda like the way you used to in 2010?

Of course, I will do it.

How?

I will continue to ask the government to open the political space. I will ask the government to release all members of my political party. I will still talk about what improvement we need to do in our country.

Do you think it's safe, having it the way you used to in 2010?

Really, if you mean if I am afraid to go to prison again, I am not afraid, because this is the struggle we have to continue until we have the political space in Rwanda.

The Justice Ministry's communique suggested that you asked for forgiveness from Kagame but your lawyer denies this. What is your official version of this story?

First, I would say that I never, never, never, never confessed that I committed any crime in Rwanda. I did not do it and I did not ask for forgiveness for a crime I did not commit. They say I was released because the president found it befitting to grant me [amnesty].

If you were to ask Kagame's government for something, what would it be?

Two things: First, to release other political prisoners in the country because having them in jail is not good for the image of our country. Secondly, I would ask him to open political space in Rwanda. I know that they cannot do it in one day or two days. It is a process.

What can you say to the status quo, like the current political situation in Rwanda or the way Rwanda is today?

It is still a closed country. People are afraid to say what they think. If you say it, you are considered an enemy of the state, but that is not true. What I would like to see, is that all Rwandan people could say what they think, that they can give their opinion about everything without harassment or being put in prison or something like that.

Victoire Ingabire is a Rwandan opposition leader of the FDU-Inkingi. She was released from jail after serving eight of a fifteen-year sentence.

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