Rwanda: Opposition leader Victoire Ingabire’s sentence increased from 8 to 15 years

Two statements were issued by FDU-Inkingi, the opposition coalition headed by Victoire Ingabire, about the near doubling of her sentence by the Rwandan Supreme Court. She has been imprisoned since she tried to run against Paul Kagame for the presidency of Rwanda in 2010.

by Sixbert Musangamfura

Today, as President Paul Kagame has finally decided to go to pay his last respects to the freedom and reconciliation hero Nelson Mandela, his Supreme Court sentenced political prisoner Madam Victoire Ingabire to 15 years in prison on final appeal, almost double the eight-year High Court sentence of Oct. 30, 2012.

Victoire's daughter Raissa Ujeneza shaves head in solidarity as mom sentenced 15 yrs 121313This is a very strong message to the whole opposition. It’s a slap in the face of those within the international community who asked for the opening of political space and the release of political prisoners. It is a moment of change and paradigm shift in the struggle for democracy in Rwanda.

The court upheld previous trumped up convictions for “conspiracy in harming authorities through terrorism and war” and for minimizing Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and added seven years for “conspiring against the authorities,” another charge that was dropped by the previous court.

At this particular moment, I would like to extend my deepest solidarity and personal appreciation to Madam Victoire Ingabire and her family. Her strong dedication, courage and leadership are inspirations for us and for generations to come.

We will endeavor unremittingly in our struggle for democracy and lasting peace in Rwanda. We, members of the opposition, will set her and our country free. If not, our children and theirs will be left with a heavy burden on their heads.

Together for the release of political prisoners in Rwanda!

Sixbert Musangamfura, external relations commissioner of the Rwandan opposition coalition FDU-Inkingi, can be reached at sixbert.musangamfura@gmail.com.

Victoire Ingabire will forever embody our democratic struggle

by Dr. Emmanuel Mwiseneza

Brussels, Dec. 13, 2013 – Dear compatriots, dear friends of Rwanda, all of you who love peace, freedom and democracy:

The verdict has been rendered and it is devastating. Indeed, our party chair, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, has just unjustly been sentenced to 15 years in prison. The verdict of the Supreme Court extended the first judgment of the High Court dated Oct. 30, 2012.

Our first words go to our party chair, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, to whom we express our unwavering support and promise to continue the fight she initiated until we win total victory in our fight for our rights and freedoms and the total liberation of the Rwandan people from the yoke of dictatorship under which we have been languishing for nearly two decades.

Victoire's family airport farewell 0110- Lin Muyizere, Raissa Ujeneza, Victoire, Rist Shimwa, Remy Ndizeye NiyigenaOur words also go to the family of the political prisoner, who have consented to so many sacrifices in the interests of the Rwandan people and who today are deprived of a mother and a wife.

Finally, our words are addressed to all members of FDU-Inkingi and all democrats everywhere to tell them: “Do not be discouraged; the fight has just begun.” Nothing can stop the aspiration of a people for freedom and democracy. Wherever dictatorial regimes have tried to prevent the people from accessing this deep-rooted aspiration, they failed. Certainly, it often took men and women of exceptional courage to get them to fold back their plans. Ms. Victoire Ingabire is one of those.

Let us recall that the decision of FDU-Inkingi to get involved in politics in Rwanda was made after reviewing all options to restore democratic rule in the face of a dictatorial regime. The peaceful option we chose seemed to be the best to avoid a power shift through bloodshed. We always think that too much blood has already been shed in our country and it was important that the Rwandan regime understand that by such an action, we gave it an offer of peace and reconciliation in order to save the Rwandan people from the sufferings of the past.

We will not go through all the incidents that marred this trial from the High Court to the Supreme Court and were identified by both human rights NGOs, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and diplomatic representatives who attended the proceedings, marred by intimidation of the accused and her defense counsel, harassment of the accused by special emissaries, unequal treatment between the prosecution and the defense, the use of non-retroactive laws, manufactured evidence, intimidation of defense witnesses etc.

Neither will we dwell on the lynching and attacks orchestrated by the government to which Ms. Victoire Ingabire was subjected upon her arrival in Rwanda, attacks by the highest authorities of the state, including the president of the republic, and which showed from the start the intent of the dictatorship to specifically block the road to our party chair and to FDU-Inkingi in general, in order to prevent them from entering the democratic competition.

Mandela, KagameLet us also remember, that the persecution of FDU-Inkingi’s chair, Ms. Victoire Ingabire was accompanied by that of the party’s interim secretary general, Mr. Sylvain Sibomana, and other members of FDU-Inkingi, including even her staff, in order to isolate her, to weaken her and undermine all structures of the party. Currently, other members of FDU-Inkingi have been convicted and/or are awaiting convictions for reasons that are purely political, such as having attended the trial of Ms. Victoire Ingabire. These include Mr. Venant Abayisenga, Mr. Emmanuel Byukusenge, Ms. Leonille Gasengayire, Ms. Jenny Irakoze Flora, Mr. Marcel Nahimana, Mr. Samuel Hitimana, Mr. Christian Tuganemungu, Mr. Norbert Ufitamahoro, Mr. Valens Uwilingiyimana, Mr. Venuste Uwiringiyimana and other members who have been persecuted in total indifference to and trampling of laws yet established by the regime.

The leaders of other opposition parties, such as Deo Mushayidi, Bernard Ntaganda and Dr. Theoneste Niyitegeka, are also languishing in prison for political reasons.

With the conviction of FDU-Inkingi Chair Ms. Victoire Ingabire, the conviction of Interim Secretary General Mr. Sylvain Sibomana, as well as the ongoing trials of other party members, the Rwandan government hopes to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights and to decapitate our party, thanks to the laws the government has tailored in order to padlock the political arena.

We hereby recognize the leadership of our party chair and our party interim secretary general because their fight, which is just and legitimate, is also ours. Imprisoned or not, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza will remain the beacon that will lead us to total democratic victory.

Imprisoned or not, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza will remain the beacon that will lead us to total democratic victory.

We’ve already said it at the outset that this trial is political. Nevertheless, we wanted to give to the Rwandan justice system a chance to prove whether it is really independent from the political power. Today’s verdict and those that preceded it definitively prove that we are facing a political conflict that requires a political solution.

This is why we once again solemnly request direct negotiations with the Rwandan government to find appropriate and lasting solutions to problems of democracy, governance, justice and reconciliation to prevent further mayhem and to enable all components of the Rwandan people to live together in mutual respect and to guarantee the rights and freedoms of everyone.

We condemn such acts that are outrageous for a respectful state and call upon the international community, Rwanda’s donors, friends of Rwanda, the countries of the Great Lakes region in Africa, the United Nations, the European Union and all the people who love peace and democracy to use their influence and request the Rwandan government to release Ms. Victoire Ingabire and all other political prisoners and accept democratic rules by letting all political parties operate freely in compliance with the Constitution.

To the Rwandan regime, we reiterate once again our appeal that it exercise restraint and regain its senses.

Dr. Emmanuel Mwiseneza, commissioner for information and communication of the Rwandan opposition coalition FDU-Inkingi, can be reached via sixbert.musangamfura@gmail.com.