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Freed Rwandan Opposition Leader to Push for More Political Space

Rwandan opposition politician Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire has vowed to push for the opening up of the political space days after she was released from prison following a presidential pardon.

Ms Ingabire was freed on Saturday September 15 after serving eight of her 15-year sentence.

She had been arrested in 2010 soon after returning from exile in the Netherlands seeking to contest for the presidency.

She was charged with inciting revolt against the government, forming armed groups to destabilise the country, and minimising the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Her trial and consequent sentencing in 2013 attracted wide criticism especially from the international community.

Ms Ingabire is the leader of the unregistered opposition FDU-Inkingi party.

While thanking President Paul Kagame for her release, Ms Ingabire said she did not “plead for mercy” but wrote to the president requesting to be freed saying she had committed no crime.

“I didn’t plead for mercy for crimes I didn’t commit, but I requested to be released based on the laws of the republic on requesting for presidential clemency, mainly because there had been court rulings which indicated that I had not committed any crimes,” Ms Ingabire told BBC Gahuzamiryango service.

In November 2017, the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) ruled that Ms Ingabire’s rights to freedoms of opinion and expression as well as right to an adequate defence had been violated. The government, though not ordered to release her, was given six months to rectify the harm done.

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Ms Ingabire says her release, alongside popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo and 2,138 other convicts, was because President Kagame realised that her jailing was unfounded.

Rules for release

To remain free, the former prisoners must meet a set of conditions failure to which their pardon will be revoked, the official gazette on their release states.

Among the conditions is to notify the prosecutor in their location the place of residence, report to the prosecutor’s office once every month and seek permission if one cannot do so. They are also required to seek authorisation from the Minister of Justice in case they need to go out of the country.

The conditions may be lifted depending on the conduct of the grantee of mercy or if a requested is made by writing to the President and a copy sent to the Justice minister who will then give his or her opinion to the head of State.

Ms Ingabire, whose family is in the Netherlands, said the conditions do not prevent her from engaging in politics.

“Our intention is not to be part of the government. We want to continue pushing for the opening up of political space and releasing of other political prisoners,” she said, adding that she is not worried should her pardon be revoked.

Ms Ingabire has since visited Mr Bernard Ntaganda, the leader of the unregistered faction of the Social Party Imberakuri. Ms Ingabire was accompanied by Anne Rwigara, the sister to jailed opposition politician Diane Rwigara.

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