Rwandan President, Kagame, pardons 2,000 prisoners to the world’s surprise but leaves sole female challenger, Diane Rwigara in prison still.
He announced the move in parliament as part of an effort to ‘rehabilitate our citizens’. Diane Rwigara contested against Kagame in the 2017 elections where he won 99% of the votes. Rwigara was disqualified by electoral authorities upon claims of underhanded practices bordering on an exaggeration of signatures needed to be eligible as a candidate and submitting names of dead people.
She denied these charges. The 37-year-old accountant turned politician will appear in court on Oct 1, to be heard. Veteran watchers of Rwandan Politics say she could go the same way as previous challengers of Kagame who have been imprisoned.
Her supporters describe the charges as politically motivated and decry the state of freedom under Kagame.
Meanwhile, Victoire Ingabire, 49, was one of those who benefited from the pardon, cutting her 15 years sentence to only 8. As leader of the opposition FDU- Inkingi party, she was jailed for what she still believes were politically motivated trumped-up charges.
She contested the 2010 elections which Kagame won by 93% after her return to Rwanda from the Netherlands on exile. She soon got into trouble over comments she made about the country’s 1994 genocide and was arrested for collaborating with a terrorist organization and ‘genocide ideology.’
Ingabire has long said her sentence was a result of her work as a prominent government critic and that the charges effectively criminalized her freedom of expression. Amnesty International and a ruling from Africa Court of Human and People rights agree.
Although Rwigara was unconnected with any political party or Ingabire herself, the parallels between the two women’s cases are clear, according to Phil Clark, a political scientist at SOAS University of London who has studied Rwanda for nearly 20 years.
‘The government will often lock up political opponents at the height of their powers and then strategically release them once they feel that they or their party has been neutralized,’ Clark said.
Immediately after her release, Ingabire was quick to request the government to liberalize the political landscape in Rwanda. She notably asked for all political prisoners to be freed, including 9 members from her political party and Rwigara.