Rwandan activist Rwigara blocked from planning trial defence

Human rights activist Diane Rwigara who was disqualified from last election, now faces years jail
Human rights activist Diane Rwigara who was disqualified from last election, now faces years jail

Rwandan activist and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, Diane Shima Rwigara cannot plan her defence on charges of insurrection and forgery because prosecutors have denied access to her case file, her lawyer said on Monday.

Shima Rwigara, a 35-year-old accountant, is the latest in a series of political opponents of Kagame to face criminal charges.

She is accused of faking the registration papers she filed to stand against Kagame in an August election. She was barred from running and he won with 98.8 percent of the vote.

Rwigara accuses Kagame of stifling dissent and has criticised the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s (RPF) tight grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end a genocide in 1994.

On Monday, her lawyer Buhuru Pierre Celestin told the court in the capital Kigali he should have been handed the full charge sheet before the hearing resumed.

“They (defendants) should not be here without their file,” Buhuru said. “This raises my worry that the court is hearing the case without all elements of the case.”

Buhuru’s comments came days after Rwigara told the court she had been forced to appear without her lawyer because authorities had not told him about the hearing in time.

The defendants were first taken from their home in Kigali on Aug. 30 on tax evasion allegations related to the family’s tobacco company.

“I request that we should have the case file. I and my children should have access to the case file so that we should plan our defence,” Adeline, the politician’s mother, said during Monday’s session.

Both women and Rwigara’s sister have been charged. The three defendants have said the accusations are politically motivated.

Prosecutors said they would not disclose details of the charges as an investigation was still taking place.

“We cannot hand it out for the secrecy of its content,” Michel Nshimiyimana told the court.

Kagame is praised for restoring stability in Rwanda and for rapid economic progress. Rights groups say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed opponents, several of whom have been killed. The government dismisses the accusations as false.

Rwanda last month also charged another opposition official and eight others with forming an armed group and seeking to overthrow the government.

“The current move by RPF to jail people because they want to … run for the presidency is a gift. They won’t finish us all,” Bernard Ntaganda, an opposition politician who was once jailed for four years, told journalists outside the court.

“The message is clear: it is democracy or death.”

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