The expression-related charges against Rwanda’s Diane Rwigara, a would-be presidential candidate and her mother must be dropped, Amnesty International said ahead of the resumption of their trial.
She is charged in relation to comments she made that were critical of the ruling party, condemned problems of injustice and the state of the economy.
Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline were arrested in September 2017 after Diane tried to stand as a candidate in Rwanda’s August 2017 presidential election.
“The right to freedom of expression must not be put on trial as Rwanda’s courts hear the Rwigaras’ case,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Politicians must be allowed to explain their policies, and, like everyone else, engage with and criticize those of their opponents.”
Rwandan authorities have since defended the prosecution of Rwigara, saying she is not above the law.
“Madam Diane is not facing jail for speaking up but for activities deemed criminal under our laws,” said Rwanda’s new Foreign Minister Dr Richard Sezibera on Twitter.
“May appear strange to you but in Rwanda we don’t elect suspected criminals. They face trial in our courts of law!”
Nevertheless, in addition to dropping the expression-related charges, Amnesty International is also calling on the Rwandan authorities to ensure the Rwigaras’ right to a fair trial on other charges is guaranteed, as stipulated in the country’s constitution and international law.
Rwigara and her mother Adeline are both accused of “inciting insurrection or trouble among the population”.
Rwigara faces further charges of “forging or alteration of documents” and “use of counterfeited documents”, and her mother is additionally accused of “discrimination and sectarian practices”.
The incitement charges against Diane Rwigara are based on comments she made at press conferences she held, including the launch of the People Salvation Movement, her new activist group, on 14 July 2017.
At a pre-trial hearing in November 2017, the prosecutor was reported as saying that the words Diane Rwigara used “clearly show that she intended to smear the country and its leadership with lies”.
Diane and Adeline Rwigara were released on bail on 5 October 2018 after spending more than a year in detention.
Whereas the court hearings to date have dealt with procedural issues, the hearing is expected to enter into the substance of the case.