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Rwandan court drops all charges against opposition figure

08 December 2018

A High Court in Rwanda has acquitted a critic of government and President Paul Kagame.

Activists Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline have been acquitted of all charges brought against them.

Ms Rwigara already spent one year in prison after being barred from running in presidential elections against the long-standing incumbent Paul Kagame.

The courtroom, packed with diplomats and supporters, erupted in applause when the verdict was read out, as Diane Rwigara and her mother were overcome with tears. "The court finds that the prosecution's charges were baseless", said presiding judge Xavier Ndahayo.

"This is a testament that all these charges against me and my mother and family members are made up".

Since Rwigara's arrest previous year, her brothers and sister have been interrogated, family assets have been forcibly auctioned to pay off a multi-million dollar tax claim, while a hotel the family owned was demolished for allegedly failing to abide by city guidelines.

Rwigara's father, a prominent businessman who was once close to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP), was killed in a road accident in 2015.

The activist ran for president in 2017
Image The activist ran for president in 2017

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

The court also ruled that Ms Rwigara's criticism of government through press conferences was freedom of speech which was guaranteed by both the constitution and global law.

The two remained in detention for more than a year before they were released on bail in October 2018.

After announcing her intention to run for president, nude pictures of the younger Rwigara were leaked online. "I am extremely happy and I now have the energy and the zeal to continue my passion of fighting for freedom of expression and human rights in Rwanda", Rwigara told AFP.

Since Rwigara's arrest a year ago, her brothers and sister have been interrogated, family assets have been forcibly auctioned to pay off a multi-million dollar tax claim, while a hotel the family owned was demolished for allegedly failing to abide by city guidelines.

Some Rwandans in the capital, Kigali, said they were shocked by the court's decision.

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.

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Rwandan court drops all charges against opposition figure