Kagame defends Rwanda courts as key dissident faces trial

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President Paul Kagame insisted on Sunday that Rwanda’s courts will operate freely in the case of leading dissident politician Diane Rwigara, as prosecutors push for her to face 22 years in jail.

Rwigara went on trial in the capital Kigali on Wednesday for inciting insurrection and forgery.

The 37-year-old denies the charges as “politically motivated” after the electoral commission blocked her attempt to challenge Kagame in last year’s elections.

“Our justice works freely, everybody should know that,” Kagame told AFP on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum conference.

Rwigara has repeatedly denounced alleged human rights abuses in Rwanda and accused the government of inflating economic statistics to give a false impression of the country’s performance.

Prosecutors also want her mother sentenced to 22 years for inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism in a country still overshadowed by the 1994 genocide.

Kagame took aim at Michaelle Jean, outgoing head of the world organisation of French-speaking nations known as La Francophonie (OIF), who has raised concerns over the highly sensitive trial.

“This matter has nothing to do with La Francophonie,” Kagame said.

Jean had urged people in a tweet this week to “follow the trial as closely as possible”.

Jean, a Canadian, is set to be replaced shortly at the head of the OIF by Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

Kagame, who is credited with overseeing rapid economic development in Rwanda after the genocide, faces regular accusations from rights groups of muzzling the opposition.

He was re-elected for a new seven-year term in August 2017 with nearly 99 percent of the vote.

Constitutional reforms adopted by referendum in 2015 would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2034.

Rwanda’s successful bid to lead the OIF sparked controversy, not least since the organisation’s remit includes reinforcing democracy and as the country switched to English as the language of education in 2008.

Kagame on Sunday insisted: “French has never disappeared in Rwandan schools and it will continue.”