Rwanda government critic Rwigara acquitted

Diane Rwigara (front L), a critic of Rwanda's President, reacts as she leaves the Kigali's High CourtImage copyright

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Diane Rwigara is a prominent critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame

A Rwandan court in the capital, Kigali, has acquitted government critic Diane Rwigara and her mother of charges of inciting insurrection and forgery.

Ms Rwigara was imprisoned for over a year, after being barred from running in presidential elections against the long-standing incumbent Paul Kagame.

The 37-year-old opposition leader faced up to 22 years in prison for charges she said were politically motivated.

A three-judge panel told a packed room all the charges were “baseless”.

Since her arrest, Ms Rwigara’s family have been subject to interrogations and their family assets forcibly auctioned.

“I am very happy with the verdict,” said Ms Rwigara, who has been out on bail since October. “I am continuing with my political journey… because there’s still a lot that needs to be done in our country.”

During the hearings, the businesswoman asserted that Rwanda’s economy was mainly controlled by the governing party’s elite.

“Everything I talked about in the past has not been resolved. There are still many political prisoners in the country,” she told journalists after the high court ruling.

Ms Riwgara has repeatedly accused President Kagame of stifling dissent and criticised his party’s unyielding grip on power since it assumed control after the country’s civil war.

Lack of evidence

Anne Soy, BBC Africa correspondent

It’s a big win for the young opposition leader. Diane Rwigara always maintained that the accusations against her were politically motivated.

US politicians and human rights advocates urged the court to drop the charges. And it did, citing lack of evidence.

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Ms Rwigara and her mother Adeline, seen after being released on bail

Ms Rwigara and her mother Adeline had been arrested in Kigali after she had declared her intention to challenge President Paul Kagame in the 2017 election.

The electoral commission disqualified Ms Rwigara accusing her of forging supporters’ signatures. The president easily won the race with over 98% of the vote.

President Kagame has been criticised for stifling democratic freedoms. But he’s also been praised for the stability and the economic growth of Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.

In Thursday’s ruling, the high court judges said the prosecution failed to prove that Ms Rwigara had personally forged signatures and ruled that her criticism of the government during press conferences was protected by freedom of speech in both the constitution and international law.

They also ruled freedom of speech protected the Whatsapp voice notes Adeline Rwigara privately sent to relatives accusing the state of ruling through fear.

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