Diane Rwigara and her mother have been acquitted by Rwanda’s high court of charges including inciting insurrection and forging documents.
Rwigara and her mother Adeline Mukangemanyi hugged supporters as cheers broke out in the packed courtroom in the Kigali while the verdict was read out. A three-judge panel described the charges as “baseless”.
The jury ruled that the duo was not guilty of insurrection, stating that the State prosecution had failed to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt. Beyond reasonable doubt is the standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution consisting in that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, meaning that the evidence is fully sufficient, all the facts are proven and guilt is established.
Rwigara aged 37, was accused of forgery in relation to her unsuccessful attempt to run against President Paul Kagame. She was arrested in September last year and held in jail for more than a year, until her release on bail in October this year. She would have faced 22 years behind bars if convicted.
According to the Rwandan election commission some of the 600 signatures she had submitted as a requirement for aspiring presidential candidates were forged, and some of the people on her list were dead.
Rwigara’s mother was accused of inciting insurrection through audio messages sent on WhatsApp, which were intercepted and used as evidence by the prosecution in her case. But the court ruled that these were merely conversations between individuals and did not prove that she was promoting insurrection.
After announcing her intention to run for president, nude pictures of the younger Diane shima Rwigara were leaked online.
After the high court ruling on thutsday Rwigara told journalists that “I am very happy with the verdict,” and added that she was continuing with her political journey since there are still a lot that needs to be done in the country. “Everything I talked about in the past has not been resolved. There are still many political prisoners in the country.”
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 family accuses the government of foul play, saying he was targeted “because he did not want to continue to do business as usual”.
Amnesty said the Rwigaras’ acquittal should “usher in a new era for freedom of expression in Rwanda”, reversing the trend of repression there.
“Diane and Adeline Rwigara should never have faced charges for expressing their views,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty’s regional director . “While we welcome their discharge and acquittal, we are concerned that the right to freedom of expression remains under attack in Rwanda.”
The Rwandan ministry of justice said it respected the verdict and would “carefully study its implications”, though it added: “We condemn all attempts by external actors to inappropriately influence judicial processes in Rwanda.”
On Tuesday, a commission of the US House of Representatives held a briefing on human rights and political prisoners in Rwanda, drawing attention to the Rwigaras.
Kagame is largely credited with the development and stability that Rwanda has experienced since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, he has also spearheaded gender equality, and 61% of parliamentarians are women. But he is also accused of extreme authoritarianism, including pursuing dissidents who have fled the country.
In September, 2,000 prisoners were released, including Victoire Ingabire, another prominent opposition leader. Human rights organisations welcomed this, saying it showed that “Rwanda may be turning a new leaf”, but said the arrests, disappearances and torture would have to end to prove that the change was meaningful.
“Our justice works freely, everybody should know that,” Kagame said in response to questions about the trial last month.
Since Rwigara’s arrest last 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.
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