Kagame critic 'denied legal rights' in first court appearance

A prominent critic of Rwanda’s president appeared in court alongside her mother and sister on Friday, all charged with forgery and inciting insurrection.

Diane Shima Rwigara is accused of faking the registration papers she filed to stand against President Paul Kagame in an August election. She was eventually barred from running and Kagame went on to win with 98.8 percent of the vote.

Rwigara, 35-year-old accountant, has repeatedly accused Kagame of stifling dissent and criticised his Rwandan Patriotic Front’s tight grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Friday, she told the packed court room she had been forced to appear without her lawyer because authorities had not told him about the hearing in time.

Rwigara, her mother Adeline and sister Anne, have said charges against them are politically motivated.

Kagame has been widely praised for restoring stability but rights groups say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed opponents – accusations he dismisses.

Rwanda last month charged another opposition official and eight others with forming an armed group and seeking to overthrow the government.

Rwigara, her mother and sister were first taken from their home in the Rwandan capital on Aug. 30 on tax evasion allegations related to the family’s tobacco company.

The tax accusations did not appear on the charge sheet and prosecutors did not give details on the insurrection charge.

Rwigara’s sister Anne said they had not had enough access to their lawyer.

“How can a lawyer defend the case he doesn’t know?” she told the judges. “He came Friday and he was only allowed five minutes to discuss with us and on Sunday when he came back he was not allowed to see us.”

Rwigara’s mother is also charged with “discrimination and sectarianism”.

Prosecutor Michel Nshimiyimana said the Rwigaras’ lawyer, Buhuru Pierre Celestin, had been informed. The judges set the next hearing for Monday.


Photo credit: BBC Africa Live
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