Rwanda: Eight-Year Sentence for Opposition Leader
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||30 October 2012|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Rwanda: Eight-Year Sentence for Opposition Leader, 30 October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/509797162.html [accessed 10 December 2013]|
The guilty verdict on October 30, 2012, in the case of opposition party leader Victoire Ingabire is the culmination of a flawed trial that included politically motivated charges. The High Court in Kigali found her guilty of conspiracy to undermine the established government and denying the genocide, and sentenced her to eight years in prison.
Ingabire, president of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, was arrested in the capital, Kigali, on October 14, 2010. She was charged with six offenses. Three were linked to "terrorist acts" – creating an armed group, complicity in terrorist acts, and complicity in endangering the state through terrorism and armed violence. The remaining three − "genocide ideology," divisionism, and spreading rumors intended to incite the public to rise up against the state − were linked to her public criticism of the government in the period before the 2010 presidential elections. In its judgment, the court changed two of these charges and acquitted her of four others.
"The prosecution of Ingabire for "genocide ideology" and divisionism illustrates the Rwandan government's unwillingness to tolerate criticism and to accept the role of opposition parties in a democratic society," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The courts should not be used for such political purposes."
Human Rights Watch cannot comment on the veracity of the charges relating to Ingabire's alleged collaboration with armed groups, but is concerned that some of the evidence used to convict her appears to be unreliable.
The trial, which began in September 2011 and closed on April 25, was complex and marred by setbacks and delays. Ingabire, who pleaded not guilty, was tried alongside four co-defendants − Vital Uwumuremyi, Jean-Marie Vianney Karuta, Tharcisse Nditurende, and Noel Habiyaremye − who implicated her in alleged collaboration with armed groups.
All four pleaded guilty to charges of belonging to a terrorist movement, participating in terrorist acts, and creating an armed group. Uwumuremyi was sentenced to four years and six months in prison, Nditurende and Habiyaremye to three years and six months each, and Karuta to two years and seven months. All four are former members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group operating in eastern Congo that consists in part of individuals who took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The FDLR has committed numerous atrocities against civilians in eastern Congo in recent years.
Ingabire was accused of collaborating with the FDLR and planning to form a new armed group, the Coalition of Democratic Forces (CDF).
"Several factors lead us to conclude that Ingabire did not receive a fair trial," Bekele said. "These include the politically motivated charges, such as "genocide ideology," doubts about the reliability of some of the evidence, senior government officials' public statements before the trial about Ingabire's guilt, and broader concerns about the lack of independence of the Rwandan judiciary in politicized cases."
Possible Coercion in Military Custody and Witness Intimidation
During the trial, it emerged that three of Ingabire's co-defendants had been detained at Camp Kami, a military camp. A witness for the defense cast doubt on the reliability of the testimony of at least one of them, raising questions about their detention conditions and the possibility of coercion.
Independently of its research into this trial, Human Rights Watch has received information that other detainees in military custody, including at Camp Kami, have been put under intense pressure, and in some cases tortured, to extract confessions. Some alleged that they were ordered to incriminate Ingabire and other government opponents, even though their cases were unrelated.
During Ingabire's trial, a witness called by the defense undermined the credibility of testimony against Ingabire by Uwumuremyi, one of the co-defendants. The witness, Michel Habimana, said that he and Uwumuremyi had been detained together in Camp Kami in 2009. He claimed that Uwumuremyi was induced to incriminate Ingabire and had admitted to Habimana he did not even know her. Habimana said that Uwumuremyi had once asked him to collaborate with the intelligence services too to incriminate Ingabire, but that Habimana had refused. The court did not discount Uwumuremyi's evidence, however.
Habimana, also known as Edmond Ngarambe, is a former spokesman for the FDLR and is serving a prison sentence in Kigali on genocide-related charges. After he testified in court, he was subjected to intimidation. Prison authorities searched his prison cell on the orders of the prosecution. Habimana told the court that all his personal documents were seized, including notes he had prepared for his court statement. In court the prosecution confirmed the search by producing the notes. In a highly unusual procedure, Habimana was also questioned out of court by prison authorities, without a lawyer.
Two of the other co-defendants, Nditurende and Habiyaremye, revealed in court that they too had been detained for several months incommunicado at Camp Kami. Nditurende stated that he had been questioned several times by people he believed were intelligence agents, without access to a lawyer.
Political Bias in the Justice System
The atmosphere surrounding Ingabire's trial was politically charged long before her first court appearance. From early 2010 − several months before Ingabire was arrested − senior Rwandan government officials, including President Paul Kagame, publicly undermined the presumption of innocence, using language that strongly indicated their belief that Ingabire was guilty.
For example, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told The Independent newspaper on August 7, 2010: "She is a criminal… She is bad news, she is connected to the FDLR and terrorist groups and she has a criminal history" and told The East African on May 3, 2010: "There is no place for people like Ingabire in Rwanda. Not now and not in many years."On June 30, 2010, Local Government Minister James Musoni was quoted by the Rwanda News Agency as saying: "Ingabire is like the advance party of the FDLR."
Such comments were amplified in pro-government newspapers, in particular The New Times, which published numerous articles extremely hostile to Ingabire, particularly in the months leading up to the 2010 presidential elections.
"The odds were stacked up against Ingabire before any evidence had been produced," Bekele said. "In these circumstances, it was highly unlikely she would receive a fair trial."
Human Rights Watch noted that the Rwandan justice system has undergone positive reforms, but said that these have been undermined by the politicization of the judiciary. The Rwandan justice system lacks independence, and judges, prosecutors, and witnesses remain vulnerable to pressure from the government, especially in cases involving opponents and critics.
The 2008 genocide ideology law, under which Ingabire was charged, has been used as a tool to silence criticism of the government. The definition of "genocide ideology" is very broad and imprecise, leaving the law open to abuse. People such as Ingabire who have spoken out about crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) against Hutu civilians since 1994 have been particularly vulnerable to accusations of "genocide ideology." Ingabire challenged the constitutionality of the accusation of genocide ideology but on October 18, the Supreme Court ruled that her challenge was unfounded.
Initial reports indicate that in its judgment on October 30, the High Court did not convict Ingabire for genocide ideology but for genocide denial under a 2003 law.
"The Rwandan government has a legitimate responsibility to prevent the kind of hate speech and incitement to ethnic violence that led to the genocide in 1994," Bekele said. "However, the responsibility to prevent violence should not be used as an excuse for stifling criticism or prohibiting discussion of certain events − nor should it be invoked as a pretext for delaying democratic reforms."
In 2010, the Rwandan government embarked on a revision of the genocide ideology law. An amended version was approved by the Council of Ministers on June 27 and is currently before Parliament.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to ensure that the revised version of the "genocide ideology" law guards against abusive prosecutions and the criminalization of speech that lacks the intent and effect of provoking violence.
Preventing Political Pluralism
Freedom of expression and association are severely restricted in Rwanda. Two years after presidential elections in which Kagame was re-elected with more than 93 percent of the vote, Rwanda effectively still has no functioning opposition parties. The RPF dominates the political scene and faces no meaningful challenge from other parties represented in parliament.
The FDU-Inkingi has not been able to register as a political party, despite several attempts before the 2010 elections. It has been further weakened since Ingabire's arrest and, like other opposition parties, is now barely able to function in Rwanda.
Several other members of the FDU-Inkingi have been threatened, arrested, and detained, and some prosecuted. In September, eight members of the FDU-Inkingi were arrested in Kibuye, in western Rwanda, and accused of holding illegal meetings. They were charged with inciting insurrection or trouble among the population. They remain in preventive detention. On September 8, Sylvain Sibomana, secretary general of the FDU-Inkingi, and Martin Ntavuka, FDU-Inkingi representative for Kigali, were detained overnight by the police near Gitarama, after making critical comments about government policies during an informal conversation on a bus. The police reproached them for being too critical of government policies and claimed their party was holding illegal meetings. They were released the following day without charge. In April 2011 two FDU-Inkingi members, Anastase Hagabimana and Norbert Manirafasha, were arrested in connection with a draft statement by their party criticizing an increase in the cost of living in Rwanda. Manirafasha spent two weeks in prison and Hagabimana four months.
Other opposition parties have had similar treatment. Bernard Ntaganda, founding president of the PS-Imberakuri party, is in prison for expressing his views and criticizing the government. He was arrested on June 24, 2010, just weeks before the presidential elections, and charged with endangering national security, "divisionism," and attempting to organize demonstrations without authorization. On February 11, 2011, he was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison – a sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court on April 27, 2012.
Two other PS-Imberakuri members, Sylver Mwizerwa and Donatien Mukeshimana, were sentenced in August 2010 to three years and two years respectively for "rebellion" and destruction of property, allegedly for breaking into the PS-Imberakuri office after the landlord had reclaimed it. Mukeshimana was released in August after serving his sentence; Mwizerwa remains in prison.
Other members of the party have been repeatedly harassed, threatened, and intimidated, and questioned repeatedly by the police in connection with their political activities. On September 5, Alexis Bakunzibake, vice-president of the PS-Imberakuri, was abducted by armed men in Kigali, blindfolded and detained overnight in a location he could not identify. His abductors questioned him about the PS-Imberakuri's activities, its membership and funding, and its alleged links with other opposition groups. They tried to persuade him to abandon his party activities, then covered his eyes again, drove him to an undisclosed location, and dumped him across the border in Uganda.
A third opposition party, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, has been severely affected by the murder of its vice president in July 2010 and the subsequent decision by its president, Frank Habineza, to flee the country. Like the FDU-Inkingi, the Democratic Green Party has been unable to register in Rwanda, due to a succession of administrative and other obstacles by local and national authorities. In September, Habineza returned to Rwanda to try to register the party once again with a view to participating in the 2013 parliamentary elections.
Journalists and other critics have also been prosecuted in connection with the expression of critical views. In August, Stanley Gatera, editor of the newspaper Umusingi, was arrested in connection with an opinion article published in his newspaper about marital stability and the alleged problems posed − in the author's view − by the supposed allure of Tutsi women. He was charged with discrimination and sectarianism and tried in October. He remains in prison awaiting the court's judgment.
In April, Epaphrodite Habarugira, a radio announcer at Radio Huguka, was arrested and charged with "genocide ideology" after apparently making a mistake when reading a news broadcast and accidentally mixing up terms when referring to survivors of the genocide. He spent three months in prison before being acquitted and released in July. The state prosecutor has appealed his acquittal.
Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi, of the newspaper Umurabyo, are both in prison after being sentenced in February 2011 to 17 and 7 years respectively in connection with articles viewed as critical of the government and Kagame. On appeal, the Supreme Court on April 5 reduced their sentences to four and three years respectively. It upheld charges of endangering national security against both women, and a charge of defamation against Uwimana, the newspaper's editor. It dropped charges of minimization of the 1994 genocide and divisionism against Uwimana.