Rwanda: It's D-Day for Kagame's Critic Diane Rwigara, Her Mother

Diane Shima Rwigara (dressed in pink prison outfit) is escorted out of the Kigali High Court on November 7, 2017.
6 December 2018

Johannesburg — The High Court in Kimihurura will today, deliver its verdict in the case of Diane Shima Rwigara and her mother Adeline Rwigara.

Diane Rwigara is facing charges of forgery related to her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2017 in which she was disqualified. She also faces insurrection charges along with her mother who is also accused of promoting sectarianism.

Diane Rwigara is the daughter of the late Assinapol Rwigara, a tycoon who fell out with President Paul Kagame before his death in a car accident in 2015.

Diane Rwigara's troubles began in May 2017 when she became the first female independent candidate after she declared her interest to challenge Kagame, and promised to eradicate poverty, champion free speech, and provide health insurance for all. From there, her life became a roller coaster ride. In June 2017, she woke up to her nude pictures shared online, in what is widely believed to have been a smear campaign to discredit her. She vowed to soldier on, saying the leaking of nude photos of her would not deter her from running for president in the August 2017 presidential elections.

Diane Rwigara came out with accusations that up to 10 of her representatives were arrested and threatened with "treason charges" but later released with no charge. She sent complaint letters to the police and the National Electoral Commission, citing local authorities and security operatives as being involved in intimidating her representatives as they moved around the country collecting the 600 signatures required for a candidate to run as an independent presidential candidate.

In June 2017, as required of an independent presidential aspirant, Diane submitted all the documents required and became the fourth aspirant after Frank Habineza, of Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, and two independent hopefuls Gilbert Mwenedata and Fred Sekikubo Barafinda, to submit her credentials, only for the National Electoral Commission to decline her application.  INEC claimed Diane had 572 signatures and also produced recommendations from people who they believed had died.

In September 2017, Diane Rwigara and some of her family members went missing, after they were reportedly taken into custody during a raid at their home at the upscale suburb of Kiyovu in Kigali. Police claimed that they were investigating them for alleged forgery and tax evasion, which prompted them to conduct a search at the family's home but however dispelled rumours that any arrests had been made. The police confiscated computers and all communication gadgets and nobody could reach or locate them.

A few days later Diane Rwigara, her mother and her sister were released, only to be re-arrested after a few days. She was now facing fresh and more serious charges that included treason, inciting revolt and revealing "sensitive information". A local website published a story alleging a plot by the Rwigara family to overthrow the government.

They have been in and out of court for over a year now. Their bail hearings kept being postponed. In October 2017, the court refused to separate their trial saying that there are common charges against the three, which may complicate the process if they were tried separately. Diane Rwigara and her mother were denied bail and were remanded for at least 30 days before their trial began. Anne Rwigara was released provisionally after the judge decided to drop the charge accusing her of inciting public insurrection on grounds of insufficient evidence.

In March 2018, the government auctioned a company belonging to the Rwigara's saying it owes more than U.S.$5.85 million in tax arrears. In June 2018, Rwanda Revenue Authority raised U.S.$$2 million in an auction of equipment from the family's tobacco factory.

In October 2018, the courts granted bail to Diane Rwigara and her mother after they had been in jail for more than a year, saying that some of the reasons for which they had been remanded no longer existed. Among the bail conditions set by the judge, the two suspects were not be allowed to leave the precincts of Kigali without the permission of the court and they were also ordered to submit their travel documents to prosecutors.

Rwanda prosecutors requested the High Court to hand both Diane Rwigara and her mother 22-year prison sentences. The prosecution said the evidence produced in court pointed to their intention to incite insurrection against the government.

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