Rwanda President Kagame jails, tortures leading opponent

by Sylvain Sibomana and Eugene Ndahayo

Kigali, Rwanda, Oct. 24 – Here is a short chronology of events regarding the second arrest and detention of Victoire Ingabire, who heads the FDU-Inkingi coalition of political parties and is widely regarded as Rwanda’s opposition leader.

[Editor’s note: Both Victoire and her lawyer, renowned U.S. law professor Peter Erlinger, were jailed earlier this year, prior to the Aug. 9 election. None of the three main opposition parties was allowed to register nor their candidates allowed on the ballot. Unsurprisingly, incumbent President Paul Kagame was reportedly re-elected with 93 percent of the vote.

Since Kagame’s brutal suppression of his political opposition – another opponent has been imprisoned for months and the second in command of the Rwandan Green Party was beheaded – and the recent U.N. report blaming Kagame for genocide of Rwandans who had fled to neighboring Congo, the U.S. has backed away from its close alliance with this dictator. U.S. funding, however, has not yet ceased.]

Oct. 8: Police laid siege to Victoire’s home in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. She remained indoors from then until her arrest on Oct. 14.

Oct. 9: Victoire asked the police spokesperson what was going on and she was told there was nothing to worry about.

Oct. 11: Victoire reached Prosecutor Ruberwa by phone and asked whether the bail conditions had changed because of the police siege. The prosecutor seemed to be surprised and promised to ask the Criminal Investigation Department.

Oct. 14, 2:50 p.m.: A police team entered Victoire’s home, put her under arrest and took her to CID headquarters. The police spokesperson informed the public that Victoire was being arrested because of new evidence implicating her in the formation of a terrorist organization and that a key witness had been arrested the day before on the border with Congo whose documents and testimony implicate her.

Oct. 14, evening: Victoire was transferred to the Kicukiro police detention facility. The FDU Inkingi team brought her a mattress, clothes, a blanket and hygienic items. Food was taken to the detention center as well. [In Rwanda, prisoners rely on their families to bring them food. Jails provide none.] All the items were given to the guards but never to the detainee.

Oct. 15: Two lawyers visited Victoire and noticed she had been in handcuffs without a break since her arrest. She had to sleep in a seated position on the floor, and no personal hygiene items were provided. She had not eaten. The lead lawyer discussed the detention conditions with the security officers and was told that they did not make the decisions. He rushed to the CID headquarters and left with no assurance that the situation will improve.

Oct. 16: The jailers decided to give Victoire only a blanket. She was still in handcuffs. She had been given no mattress, no clothes, no hygienic items. The lawyer discussed the situation with the hierarchy. In the evening, the handcuffs were removed for the night.

All the food provided was returned untouched. No member of the party nor anyone from her house is allowed to see her nor talk to her. There is a total blackout on her status. At this stage there was no doubt she was not eating. We did not know whether she was given food or if she was unable to eat because of the 24-hour handcuffs.

Oct. 18: Victoire was taken to Gasabo Courthouse for interrogation by the prosecutor. She was in the same outfit she wore at the time of her arrest. Her hair was undone, she was in handcuffs and she looked very weak.

Late that night, a medical doctor was rushed to her cell. Her blood pressure had dropped dangerously and some medication was given. The police agreed this time to give her the mattress and hygienic items.

Oct. 19: Victoire’s lawyer asked in a letter to the police commissioner that his client be allowed to go to the hospital or to be seen by an independent doctor.

Oct. 18-21: The prosecutor interrogated Victoire at the Gasabo Courthouse. As always, she was brought in in handcuffs. She was looking weak, exhausted and under duress.

Oct. 21: In the morning hours, the police again rushed in some medical staff and gave Victoire some medication before the prosecutor’s afternoon confrontation with the state-prepared key witness, Major Vital Uwumuremyi.

During the confrontation, the key witness claimed that he was given in 2008 and 2009 at least $1,000 USD to create and train a rebel group and to purchase weapons. He testified that since his repatriation in Rwanda in February 2009, he has never been involved in any other rebel activity. This gives the impression that the terrorist allegations are over two years old and that police statements in this respect are not accurate for some reason.

Oct. 22: Victoire was again seen by the police medical doctor. People from our political party were still not allowed to see her. A bail hearing was supposed to be held on the Oct. 25 at the Gasabo Courthouse.

– Sylvain Sibomana

Victoire Ingabire’s 12th day in captivity

Oct. 25 – The bail hearing of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza started today in the Gasabo Courthouse. The official criminal charge is the formation of a terrorist organization with the aim to disrupt the territorial security of Rwanda.

The prosecutor, backed by his prepared key witness, tried to convince the court that at the end of 2007 and early in 2008 the defendant carried on suspicious contacts with the rebel group FDRL and its deserters in order to create a terrorist organization. The evidence displayed in court is a mishmash of emails and a transfer of about $2,000 USD made by a third party not related to the defendant. The link to Victoire was not established.

The same criminal charge was leveled in her April 2010 bail hearing, but the prosecutor claims that even if the facts are old, the current confessing state witness brought more light and that the definition of the criminal charge is new. The prosecutor failed to explain why he never pressed charges against his witness for forgery and the use of fake identity documents. He failed to substantiate whether the defendant has violated any of his previous bail conditions.

To the question whether the prosecutor, by basing the arrest of Victoire on arranged confessions from one witness known for forgery and lack of credibility and who is himself accused of the same criminal charges, is not a blatant violation of Article 59 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, he explained that Major Vital Uwumuremyi is a defendant as well, who is pleading guilty and begging for mercy, and he is not a witness.

All the eyes are turned to the decision of the court tomorrow at 3 p.m. This will be another big test for the independence of justice in Rwanda.

We call upon the government to open up the political space and to release Victoire Ingabire and all the opposition leaders from prisons.

– Sylvain Sibomana

Bail denied Victoire Ingabire after 13 days of torture

Oct. 26 – Today, the Gasabo Court denied bail for detained opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, tortured and humiliated by her jailers. The court decision is officially based on worries that the security of the state might be in danger if the defendant is free. It is a political decision, and it is not justice.

The politically motivated charges keep on coming at an alarming rate as the regime and its secret police manufacture or recycle new accusations all the time. On Oct. 6, 2010, President Paul Kagame informed the public that political space in Rwanda is full and occupied.

It is clear that there is no room left in politics in Rwanda, only in jail. It’s very sad indeed for our country, its leadership, our people, our partners and the friends of Rwanda. Where do they think this country is heading? Can’t they really see how close to the brink of chaos our country is?

In the history of humanity, dictatorships have found resources, demagogic propaganda and lobbies to shield their powers and fool people and the world until they disintegrate. It has always been a small group of people, committed and ready to lose everything, who, by their determination and courage, set the dawn of a new order. We are not alone. Those who genuinely support peace, justice and democracy will be on our side.

All genuine opposition parties have been beheaded. Their leaders are either in jail, in exile or buried. Shame on those who continue to ignore the cries of our people! There will never be stability in a country where there is no independent justice, no neutral security institutions, no freedoms and no rule of law.

It is clear that there is no room left in politics in Rwanda, only in jail. All genuine opposition parties have been beheaded. Their leaders are either in jail, in exile or buried.

Speak out; your silence is lethal! “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people,” said Martin Luther King Jr.

We call for the immediate release of Victoire Ingabire, chair of FDU-Inkingi, of Bernard Ntaganda, chair of the Social Party Imberakuri, and of other political prisoners. We expect all the partners of Rwanda to seriously discuss with Gen. Paul Kagame the need for real political space in our country and its future.

– Eugene Ndahayo

Sylvain Sibomana is secretary general of the FDU-Inkingi coalition of political parties, and Eugene Ndahayo is president of the Support Committee of FDU-Inkingi. Both can be reached at sixchris@netti.fi.