Presidential hopeful and critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been in prison together with her sister and mother since September 22 over charges they describe as politically motivated.
35-year-old Diane Rwigara who was disqualified from running against Kagame in the August presidential election is charged with forgery and inciting insurrection during her bid to run for president.
She is also charged with evading taxes of nearly Rwf5 billion ($6 million) together with her sister Anne Rwigara and mother Adeline Rwigara who are also accused of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.
They pleaded not guilty and said their arrest and detention are politically motivated. The three were refused bail pending trial on the tax evasion allegations related to the family’s tobacco company.
Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that the Rwandan government releases the three who are influential in the country. The petition was started by the civil rights group African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN).
“Demand that Paul Kagame and the Rwandan regime produce Ms. Rwigara and immediately release her, her mother and the other family members,” they stated.
The tax evasion accusations did not appear on the charge sheet and prosecutors did not give details of the insurrection charge.
Rwigara’s sister Anne said they had not had enough access to their lawyer. Adeline Rwigara had told the court that they had been tortured and deprived of food.
The country’s revenue authority has threatened to auction their properties including mansions, lands and cars if they don’t settle the outstanding bill.
“If they have not paid the tax by the end of November, we shall begin to put their properties on the market,” the Commissioner General of Rwanda Revenue Authority Richard Tusabe threatened.
The authority has closed down their company and proposed a payment plan of 12 months to renege on the decision to auction their properties.
Anne Rwigara who is the head of the family business told the court that she is being forced to sign the payment plan which they do not agree with.
Diane Rwigara’s father was a wealthy businessman who died in a car crash in 2015. He had fallen out with the ruling party prior to his death which the family alleges it was an assassination.