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Rwandan rights group calls for release of Paul Kagame critic

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Rwandan rights group calls for release of Paul Kagame critic


Rwandan rights group calls for release of Paul Kagame critic

Former presidential hopeful Diane Rwigara missing since being taken in by police

Diane Rwigara, a critic of President Paul Kigame, speaking to the media in Kigali in June © Reuters

A rights group has called on Rwandan authorities to release its co-founder and former presidential aspirant, Diane Rwigara, who has been missing since police took her from her home for interrogation this week.

The People’s Salvation Movement, which Ms Rwigara helped establish after she was barred from running against President Paul Kagame in elections this month, gave no details of the whereabouts of the 35-year-old accountant.

“We are urging the Rwandan government to release Diane Rwigara, immediately and unconditionally,” it said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The Rwandan police have confirmed that Ms Rwigara, her mother, a sister and two brothers were taken from their family home on Tuesday for questioning but said they were not arrested or detained. Ms Rwigara allegedly forged some of the signatures needed to become a presidential candidate and a family-owned tobacco company has evaded paying 6.6bn Rwandan francs ($7.8m) in tax, police and tax officials have said.

Theos Badege, a police spokesman, said computers and telephones were confiscated but he told the Financial Times that Ms Rwigara was at her home.

The government has not commented on the matter.

A Kigali-based human rights activist who has been monitoring the Rwigara family home said: “This doesn’t seem to be true.” There has been no confirmation of any of the family members’ whereabouts.

A group of five opposition political groups based overseas, called the P5-Platform, issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms the raid” on the Rwigara home. The statement claimed that Ms Rwigara, a vocal critic of Mr Kagame, and her relatives were taken to “an unknown location” and were “not given the opportunity to talk to a lawyer”.

Aristide Rwigara, Diane’s brother, said from Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past few years, that he had not heard from any of his missing family members since Tuesday. “We hope for the best but we fear for the worst,” he said. “Ever since my sister started her movement they have been out to get her.”

Ms Rwigara had no political experience before challenging Mr Kagame. She is the daughter of Assinapol Rwigara, a prominent Rwandan businessman who fell out with Mr Kagame and died in a car crash in 2015. Ms Rwigara told the FT last month that she was convinced he had been murdered.

Mr Kagame is credited with overseeing the transformation of Rwanda since he led rebels that ended the genocide in 1994. But he allows virtually no opposition and several of his critics, including members of his Rwandan Patriotic Front, have died in mysterious circumstances or been imprisoned for years. He won re-election with 98.8 per cent of the vote.

The forgery allegations against Ms Rwigara stem from accusations by Parti Social (PS-Imberakuri), a political party, that 34 of its members’ signatures were forged and were among those Ms Rwigara submitted to the electoral commission to run as an independent candidate in the election.

Ms Rwigara submitted more than the 600 signatures needed to run but was told there were issues with an unspecified number of them. She then submitted some 1,100 names but the electoral commission said only 572 were valid, without giving details, Ms Rwigara said last month.

Frank Habineza, the chairman of the Democratic Green party of Rwanda and one of two challengers allowed to run against Mr Kagame in the election, also said some of the signatures Ms Rwigara submitted were forgeries of his party members’.

Ms Rwigara co-founded the People’s Salvation Movement days after being barred from running. “We are calling on Rwandans to not fear but stand up and speak for yourselves,” she told the FT last month. “[The] time has come for change.”

A few days after that one of the family’s businesses, Premier Tobacco, was hit with the bill for RwFr6.6bn in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. Ms Rwigara said the demand was trumped up and linked to her political activity. The tax evasion investigation relates to this demand, according to the Rwanda Revenue Authority.

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