A global organisation that defends political prisoners has urged the government of Rwanda to drop charges against former presidential hopeful Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline Rwigara, saying “Criticizing the government and running for office should not be crimes.”
The duo was on Friday released from prison where they spent a year over alleged tax evasion and electoral malpractices.
Freedom Now, a U.S.-based non-profit, non-governmental, and non-partisan organization that works to free individual prisoners of conscience through focused legal, political and public relations advocacy efforts, welcomed the provisional release to the Rwigaras.
The two women have been detained since September 2017.
Despite the release, both Diane and Adeline still face several national security-related charges and are banned from leaving Kigali.
“Criticizing the government and running for office should not be crimes,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth.
“We are grateful the Rwigaras are no longer in prison, but they remain in danger of lengthy imprisonment on politically-motivated charges. We call on the Rwandan government to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Diane and Adeline,” said the organisation.
In May 2017, Diane Rwigara announced she would run in the upcoming presidential election against President Kagame.
Alleged nude photos of Diane were subsequently posted on social media.
The National Electoral Commission would later stop Diane from participating in the election, ruling that the hundreds of signatures she submitted to validate her candidacy were forged.
The Rwandan Revenue Authority notified the Rwigara family that they owed $6.7 million in taxes.
As a result, the government closed the family business and froze their bank accounts.
After her failed presidential bid, Diane started the People’s Salvation Movement to challenge President Kagame.
On August 29, 2017, the Rwigaras and Diane’s sister Anne were detained and interrogated by the police.
The Rwigaras were reported missing until September 4, when the government officially arrested Diane, Adeline, and Anne on a variety of tax and forgery offenses.
Diane was also charged with using false documents during her presidential candidacy.
The police claimed that the arrest was conducted because the women failed to respond to three separate summonses.
The women were released from custody on September 5, but re-arrested on September 22, under new charges.
Adeline was charged with inciting insurrection and sectarian practices, while Diane herself was charged with forgery, sectarian practices, and inciting insurrection.
Pre-trial hearings began on October 6, 2017 before the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court in Kigali.
Some of the evidence presented against Diane includes statements she made criticizing the government’s human rights record.
On October 23, 2017, Anne, who is a U.S. citizen, was released.
On September 21, 2018, Freedom Now and Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Diane and Adeline. A decision from the Working Group is pending.