KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda’s high court on Thursday acquitted the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Diane Rwigara, of all charges against her, with the judge saying the prosecution failed to provide evidence of insurrection and forgery.
Rwigara’s mother, Adeline, 59, also was acquitted of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism. Both women had denied the charges.
Diane Rwigara, 37, was arrested after challenging longtime President Paul Kagame in last year’s election. She is the rare person to publicly criticize the government from inside this East African country.
Her case has drawn global attention as Kagame again faces pressure to give more space to critics in the highly controlled country.
U.S. senators in recent days urged the Rwandan government to drop the charges against her, with Sen. Dick Durbin noting “what appears to be highly questionable charges against Rwigara for seemingly running for office peacefully.”
In response, Rwanda’s justice minister told reporters that courts should not be pressured by third parties.
Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of her court appearance, Rwigara remained defiant, saying no amount of pressure will silence her. “I hope to be cleared of all these made-up charges but I am ready for any outcome,” she said, calling the courts unpredictable and lacking independence.
During her trial, Rwigara denounced the charges against her as politically motivated.
Kagame is praised for leading Rwanda’s recovery from the 1994 genocide and for advances in economic development and women’s rights, but critics say he does not tolerate criticism. His government rejects such accusations.
Rwigara last year acknowledged the risks of running against Kagame, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Soon after she announced her intention to run, nude photos purportedly of her that she said had been manipulated were published on social media in what her supporters called an effort to undermine her credibility.
Rwigara later was disqualified from running, with the government saying she lacked enough supporting signatures and had forged some of them. Kagame won a third term with more than 98 per cent of the vote.
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By Ignatius Ssuuna, The Associated Press