Rwandan court acquits Diane Rwigara, mother
High Court in Kigali says there was no evidence to tie the mother and daughter to the charges levelled against them but the acquittal was largely expected, not with Rwanda gearing up to host Chogm in 2020 and Kagame humbling himself to present a political plate that is clean to world leaders.
KIGALI | The high court in Kigali has acquitted Diane Shima Rwigara and her mother Adeline Mukangemanyi Rwigara, citing lack of evidence.
“Court rules that Diane Rwigara is innocent,” Judge Xavier Ndahayo, one of a panel of three judges, told a packed courtroom in the capital Kigali.
Rwigara’s mother was also acquitted of charges of inciting insurrection and discrimination.
For a country gearing up to hos the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (Chogm) in 2020, the acquittal of the Rwigaras was largely expected to be a formality as the Kigali administration tones down on political excesses.
Diane Rwigara was facing charges of inciting insurrection against the government and forgery of electoral documents during her botched attempt to vie for presidency last year. Her mother was charges of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.
Last month, the Rwigaras were granted bail in what came as a surprise to many who have followed the political events in the central African country for a while.
The bail came 20 days after President Paul Kagame exercised his prerogative of mercy and commuted the sentence of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, making the temporary freedom granted to Rwigara, a young woman who had emerged out of the blue to challenge the central African leader’s grip on power, more of a political undertone than a legal process.
The Rwandan prosecution had asked for 22 years each for the mother and daughter but the prayer was largely seen as playing to the gallery in the wake of developments that have compelled Kigali to strive for a clean slate and avoid unnecessary attention accruing from bad news ahead of Chogm.
On Wednesday, a group of US Congress members called on the Rwandan government to drop charges against Rwigara.
It was no different in November during the hearing when
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement that the trial of the Rwigaras puts the right to freedom of expression in dock.
“The right to freedom of expression must not be put on trial as Rwanda’s courts hear the Rwigaras’ case. Politicians must be allowed to explain their policies, and, like everyone else, engage with and criticise those of their opponents,” Jackson said.
Outgoing Canadian la Francophonie secretary-general, Michaëlle Jean — who last month lost a re-election bid for the post at the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), the French-speaking countries bloc, to Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo — called for close watch of the case.
“Let’s follow with utmost attention the trial in Rwanda against the freedom of expression of activist Diane Rwigara and her mother, both released on a provisional basis early October. They are accused before a Kigali court of ‘inciting insurrection’,” she wrote on Twitter.
The court ruled that the prosecution did not file evidences proving that Adeline accusations qualify as crimes.
The court said the intercepted WhatsApp audios of Adeline delivered to her co-accused Tabitha Gwiza, which was presented by prosecution as evidence; do not prove promotion of sectarianism or inciting public insurrection.
The court said the audio recordings shared between Adeline her sister Gwiza were not shared with any members of the public, therefore could not be used to prove incitement to insurrection against the accused.
On Diane, the judges concurred with the defence that that the allegation of inciting the public against government could not proved and remained mere allegation.
On forgery, an allegation where prosecution said that Diane presented signatures of dead people to the Electoral Commission to register for in presidential candidacy, the court ruled that the evidence was not substantial.
The judge said prosecution based on the penal code instead of electoral commission laws while accusing Diane of forgery.
Diane, a former presidential hopeful, is the daughter of Assinapol Rwigara, a businessman who fell out with the government before his death in a car accident in 2015.
The Rwigaras have always maintained that there was foul play in the death Assinapol, once a top ally of President Paul Kagame.
In the wake of his death, the family troubles with the state started, and after Diane’s botched attempt to challenge Kagame’s presidency, things got to a head with accusations of tax evasions and other economic crimes levelled against them.
Several businesses of the family have since been auctioned by the state.