Victoire Ingabire, Rwanda opposition leader unexpectedly freed from prison

By Flomo Yarkpawolo

On Saturday, September 15, 2018, Victoire Ingabire, the opposition leader of Rwanda's Unified Democratic Forces (UDF) was unexpectedly released from prison without any explanation from the government. The UDF is a coalition of Rwandan exile opposition groups with a large base of active members in Rwanda, Canada, Europe, and the United States of America.

Ingabire, 49-year-old, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on October 30, 2012 for some trumped-up charges. The High Court of Kagali charged her with conspiracy against the country through “terrorism and war” and “genocide denial". In December 2013, Rwanda's Supreme Court upheld her conviction and increased her prison term from 8 to 15 years.


What crimes did Victoire Ingabire commit?

Prior to her imprisonment, Ingabire was a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame. To add insult to injury, in 2010, she returned home from exile in the Netherlands to run for president. Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was also accused of “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” after publicly questioning why the government's official memorial to the 1994 genocide did not include any Hutus. Most of the 800,000 people killed were ethnic Tutsis; however, Hutu moderates were also slaughtered by the Hutu extremists. She was subsequently arrested, charged with terrorism and treason and barred from running for president.

No reason was given for her unexpectedly released today; however, a statement from the president's office said that President Kagame had exercised mercy under his prerogative as president. Ingabire was released with 2,139 other prisoners, including musician Kizito Mihigo. In 2015, Mihigo who was also a vocal critic of Kagame, was sentenced to 10 years for allegedly plotting to kill President Kagame. Mihigo, a Tutsi survivor of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, was well-known for singing the national anthem at official ceremonies. Prior to his arrest, he released a song called 'Meaning of Death' which was banned by the authorities, apparently for touching on sensitive issues about the genocide.

Kagame has been the country’s ruler since his rebel army stopped the genocide in 1994. Kagame who two-seven years term expired in 2017, changed the constitution to extend his rule until 2034. Kagame has won praise for reforming the country's economy; but, has also been accused of human rights abuses. He has won re-election for a third time last year with a so-called 98.8% of the vote, in an election observers said was a joke.

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