Diane Shima Rwigara is a Rwandan businesswoman and women’s rights activist who stood as an independent candidate in the Rwandan presidential election, 2017. Rwigara was charged on 23 September 2017, alongside her mother and four other defendants, with “inciting insurrection” among other counts.
Rwigara was born in Kigali in 1981 and has three siblings. Her father, Assinapol Rwigara, an industrialist who was a key financial backer of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, was killed in a car accident on the evening of 4 February 2015 in Gacuriro, Kigali, which her family believes was a politically motivated murder.Police said he was instantly killed when the Mercedez-Benz car he was driving was in a head-on collision with a heavy truck.
Rwigara is a trained accountant. She is a women’s rights activist who has repeatedly spoken out against the country’s bad governance under President Paul Kagame and about injustice and oppression. On 3 May 2017, Rwigara announced her intention to run in the presidential election. 72 hours later, nude photos of her were leaked in an apparent attempt to humiliate and intimidate her. She reiterated her intention to run, with campaign vows to work towards eradicating poverty, establishing universal health insurance and championing free speech. On July 7, 2017, the National Electoral Commission disqualified Rwigara from the election on technical grounds, alleging she had used forged signatures in her presidential bid and had submitted only 572 valid signatures rather than the required 600. Rwigara said she submitted 958 signatures, with an additional 120 after some were disqualified. Two other candidates were also disqualified, prompting Amnesty International to say that the election would be held in a “climate of fear and repression.” The decision was also criticised by the US State Department and the European Union. Kagame won the August 4 election with 98% of the vote. Rwigara launched an activist group called the People Salvation Movement to challenge the regime on its human rights record, saying that the country’s parliament is little more than a rubber-stamp. On August 30, 2017, Rwigara’s home was raided, with police saying she was being investigated for forgery and tax evasion. Rwigara’s family reported her missing, saying that unknown armed men in civilian clothes had held her at gunpoint while the house was searched, but police denied that she had been arrested. Numerous news outlets reported in September 2017, that Rwigara still could not be reached and that her family continued to claim she is missing. Leon Orsmond, a South African freelance advertising creative, who had helped Rwigara with her social media campaign was also missing in Rwanda since February 2018. Before his disappearance, Orsmond made no secret that he didn’t like the government of Kagame. In June 2018, the Rwanda Revenue Authority sold machinery from the family’s tobacco business for almost $2m in a bid to recover $7m in tax arrears. A previous auction of Rwigara’s family business assets – of processed tobacco – netted more than 500m Rwandan francs. Amnesty International has called on the Rwandan judiciary to ensure that this trial does not become just another means to persecute government critics. In August 2018, #FreeDianeRwigara was being used by Kenyans on Twitter to call for Kagame to release Rwigara. This came just days after Twitter users in Kenya did the same for Uganda’s MP Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobby Wine.