Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has been arrested and accused of genocide denial and collaborating with a “terrorist organisation,” reports Agence France-Presse.
The news agency quoted an anonymous government official as saying that Ingabire had been arrested in Kigali on Wednesday.
“She is accused of collaborating with a terrorist organisation, dividing the population, denying and downplaying the genocide,” the official told AFP.
Ingabire plans to contest August’s Rwandan elections as leader of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) party.
In Brussels, Eugene Ndahayo, president of a group calling itself the UDF-Inkingi Support Committee, condemned the arrest as a “barbaric and unlawful act.”
He added: “It is a tragedy for Rwanda that a call for justice for all Rwandans irrespective of political and ethnic affiliation and for an all-inclusive national dialogue to give their views on how to put in place institutions that reassure every Rwandans is turned into accusations of genocide ideology, divisionism and collaboration with a terrorist organisation FDLR [the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda].”
Since Ingabire began to campaign for the presidency, she has come under sustained attack from the Rwandan government and the government-supporting press, notably the New Times newspaper of Kigali.
In a recent interview with Radio Netherlands, Augustin Nkusi, spokesman for the Rwandan prosecutor general, claimed that Ingabire was collaborating with the FDLR, which includes remnants of the genocidaires of 1994.
“There is also evidence that she is busy creating an irregular armed force parallel to the regular national forces to come destabilize the country,” Nkusi added. He also accused her of “throwing about statements of an ideology of genocide.”
As Afrol.com reports, the UDF party strongly protested Ms Ingabire’s arrest and called for international pressure to secure her release. “We call upon governments and peace loving people and organisations to support us in getting our chair immediately and unconditionally released,” a UDF statement said.
Ms Ingabire only returned to Rwanda from exile in January this year, rapidly making her the most marked opposition politician in the country.
President Kagame only on 8 April, in a speech marking the genocide anniversary, accused Ms Igabire of “political hooliganism” before calling the UDF opposition “useless people”. Ms Igabire answered by saying a genocide commemoration “should rather be an opportunity for healing wounds,” not demonising the opposition.
Rwanda is preparing for presidential elections in August. Local and foreign human rights groups have decried increasingly repressive policies against the press and opposition in the run-up to the elections. President Kagame is widely expected to win the polls but not expected to accept a free and fair voting exercise.
Johannesburg; and Kampala, Uganda
In the latest sign of rising tensions ahead of presidential elections in August, Rwandan authorities have arrested a leading opposition politician on charges of denying the 1994 genocide, spreading genocide ideology, and collaborating with a brutal Rwandan rebel army based in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Victoire Ingabire, head of the yet-to-be-registered United Democratic Forces and a former accountant who belongs to the ethnic Hutu majority, returned to Rwanda in January to register her party and launch a vigorous campaign against President Paul Kagame for August 2010 elections.
Since her return, Ingabire has been repeatedly questioned by police until eventually being arrested and charged in the capital, Kigali, Wednesday. On Thursday, she was released on bail on the condition that she report regularly to the authorities and not leave the country, according to Protais Mutembe, her lawyer.
The arrest of Ms. Ingabire comes just days after the arrest of top Rwandan Army generals on corruption charges, and weeks after a senior Rwandan diplomat fled to South Africa for safety, claiming that Mr. Kagame’s strong-armed rule had limited “the political space” in Rwanda.
“The prosecution’s case against Ms Ingabire is based on facts and evidence,” said Rwanda’s chief prosecutor, Martin Ngoga. “The actions that led to these charges against Ms. Ingabire are extremely serious and cannot go unpunished.”
Sixteen years after the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100-day orgy of violence organized by ethnic Hutu extremists, politics and one’s view of history are often still colored by ethnic divides.
Some Rwandans see the Kagame regime as a dictatorship in which criticism is punished as a crime. But officials have argued that tight control has led to stability and economic growth in a country still scarred by horror – and Kagame supporters see opposition leaders like Ingabire as whipping up ethnic hatred, and returning the country to civil war.
“The Kagame regime maintains a siege mentality, which is the justification to beat up one’s opposition as genocidaires,” says Richard Cornwell, an independent political analyst based in Pretoria. By linking Ingabire to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the armed militia linked to the 1994 genocide, Kagame builds himself up as a savior and tears down his opponent as a criminal. “The Rwandans play for keeps,” Mr. Cornwell says. “You get your revenge in first.”
Ingabire adamantly denies official accusations against her. In a recent interview, she said instead that she was being persecuted for challenging the ruling elite.
To hear her side of the story, she is simply trying to open up the political dialogue to those whose views differ from those of Kagame, not just among Ingabire’s own Hutu majority but also among Tutsis as well. She is one of only a handful of genuine opposition figures, and given limitations on free expression, it is almost impossible to judge the opposition’s popularity, analysts say.
“We have to talk about us Hutus, us Tutsis, and to see how in the future we will not have the same problem,” Ingabire said in a recent interview in her Kigali home. “I would like to resolve this cycle of violence in the country.”