Several American Congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans, have been supporting Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline Rwigara by using the hashtag #FreeDianeRwigara on Twitter. The social media support campaign started since Wednesday, November 26, 2018. This surprise mobilization comes one week before the long-awaited verdict in the Kigali trial against the Rwigara family. As Jambonews reported in August, the hashtag #FreeDianeRwigara, now taken over by several American elected officials, was initiated in August 2018 by a group of young Kenyans and Ugandans who wanted to show their solidarity with Rwandan political prisoners.
Senator Dick Durbin, number two of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate, said he was “troubled” by “what appears to be highly questionable charges against Diane Rwigara for seemingly running for office peacefully “, and ended his tweet with the two hashtags #FreeDianeRwigara and #FreeAdelineRwigara.
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) November 26, 2018
Representative Ann Louise Wagner, elected from the State of Missouri, wrote: “Today we call on #Rwanda to #FreeDianeRwigara. Peaceful political participation is not a crime.”
Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont and member of the US Congress since 1975, replied to Wagner’s tweet: “When prosecution is used as persecution against political opponents, democracy itself is threatened. Today I call on #Rwanda to #FreeDianeRwigara.”
Representative Barbara Lee, elected from California, described Diane and Adeline Rwigara as “heroes”, writing on her Twitter page that “in Rwanda, Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline are being prosecuted for having the courage to speak up against corruption and autocracy. They are heroes. Political participation isn’t a crime.’’ She also finished her tweet with the two hashtags, #FreeAdelineRwigara and #FreeDianeRwigara.
In addition, on Wednesday, December 4, 2018, a briefing on the issue of human rights and political prisoners in Rwanda will be held at the US Congress floor in Washington. In the press release that announced the event, the organizers wrote that “the government blocks access to news services and websites based abroad, monitors social media, permits authorities to hack telecommunication networks, maintains an onerous registration and reporting regime for nongovernmental organizations, and allows extrajudicial executions of petty offenders’’.
Furthermore, the organizers of this upcoming event stated that individuals who criticize Paul Kagame or openly challenge his administration “are often targets of government reprisals. Numerous opposition leaders have been arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. Close family members, employees or associates of such government critics have also found themselves targeted for arbitrary detention as a form of pressure or retaliation.”
This is not the first time in this month that U.S elected officials have publicly expressed their support to Diane Rwigara. On November 6, at the time of the U.S. elections, Representative Suzanne Bonamici of the State of Oregon tweeted: ” As we vote today, Americans are reminded how fortunate we are to live in a country with free elections. That is not the case for human rights activist Diane Rwigara and her fellow Rwandans.” And added,” Diane is facing jail for speaking up and challenging the government. I’m advocating for Diane as part of the @TLHumanRights Defending Freedoms Project.”
This tweet [from Bonamici] provoked Kigali’s wrath. Richard Sezibera, the incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs, replied: ” No, Madam Diane is NOT facing jail for speaking up but for activities deemed criminal under our laws. [it] May appear strange to you but in Rwanda we don’t elect suspected criminals. They face trial in our courts of law.”
Olivier Nduhungirehe, high-ranking Rwandan diplomat and omnipresent on social networks, replied: ” “Fortunate” you say? Then, please take care of your messy elections, full of death threats to journalists, threats to shoot peaceful migrants, pipe bombs sent to political opponents, racist political ads, journalists speaking at political rallies, and leave us alone. We are fine. “
On November 8, two days after his first tweet, the stirring minister of State in the ministry of foreign affairs attacked again, this time targeting Michaëlle Jean, Secretary General of La Francophonie, who expressed on Twitter the intention to follow “with the greatest attention the trial brought in Rwanda against the activist for freedom of expression Diane Rwigara and her mother, who were provisionally released early October, accused before a Kigali court of “incitement to insurrection“. To this tweet, Nduhungirehe replied: “The bitterness of defeat makes you lose your mind, Madam! A new Secretary General has been elected and you are in no right to use your position as the incumbent Secretary General for this last few weeks, to avenge your loss to your upcoming successor Louise Mushikiwabo and her country.”
Other Rwandan personalities also joined these criticisms, including Ange Kagame. The president’s daughter wrote an ironic tweet about the timing of Michaëlle Jean’s statement: “When you[Michaëlle Jean] have to leave your old job, but your HRW application is due at 11:59pm”. »
Diane Rwigara wanted to run for president in the 2017 elections against Paul Kagame but was disqualified by the National Electoral Commission. She immediately launched a human rights movement called People Salvation Movement – Itabaza to raise awareness among Rwandans on their rights.
She was officially arrested with her mother and younger sister on September 23, 2017, after weeks of residential surveillance, interrogation and house searches by the Rwandan police.
Several goods and properties belonging to the family were seized, destroyed or auctioned by the Rwandan authorities.
The verdict in the Rwandan state’s trial against the Rwigara family is expected on December 6th. So far, this trial has been marked by numerous irregularities during the time of arrest, pressing charges and court proceedings.