Concerns already of Rwanda election credibility


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from PHYLLIS BIRORI in Kigali, Rwanda
Rwanda Bureau
KIGALI, (CAJ News) – LESS than a month before the general elections in Rwanda, members of some political opposition and journalists as well as other critics are behind bars.

The electoral commission and courts have banned some contestants from contesting against long-serving president, Paul Kagame.

This is dampening prospects against the holding of free and fair elections in the East African country.

Human rights organisations argue this crackdown is an attempt to retain power by Kagame (66), who critics also accuse of rigging elections to maintain his reign, since 2000.

In the last election in 2017, he secured more than 98 percent of a discredited vote.

Some 14 members of the unregistered opposition Dalfa-Umurinzi party and four journalists and critics are behind bars, several awaiting trial.

Some have been in pre-trial detention for more than two years – while others have been convicted of offenses incompatible with international human rights standards.

Since the country’s last presidential election in 2017, at least five opposition members and four critics and journalists have reportedly died or disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Clémentine de Montjoye, senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said threats of physical violence, arbitrary legal proceedings and long prison sentences, which often led to torture, had effectively deterred many Rwandans from engaging in political opposition activities and demanding hold their leaders accountable.

“The authorities should end arbitrary detentions and guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are essential to holding truly free and fair elections,” the activist said.

Three candidates are running in the presidential election.

These are Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF); Frank Habineza (Green Democratic Party of Rwanda, or PDVR) and an independent candidate, Philippe Mpayimana.

The electoral commission has banned People’s Salvation Movement leader Diane Rwigara from running in the forthcoming elections on the grounds that she had not submitted the necessary documents to support her candidacy.

She said she had submitted all the documents plus 974 signatures (600 is the minimum required number) from all 30 districts.

“After all the time, work and effort I put in, I am very disappointed to hear that I am not on the list of presidential candidates,” Rwigara said.

In March, a court in Kigali rejected Victoire Ingabire’s request to be able to run in the presidential election. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison for inciting insurrection after she attempted to run in the 2010 presidential elections. She was released in 2018 when Kagame pardoned more than 2 000 prisoners.

The presidential pardon stipulates that Ingabire may leave Rwanda with permission from the Ministry of Justice but this month, her repeated request to visit her family in The Netherlands has been unsuccessful.

“My plea directly to the President for permission on humanitarian grounds to leave Rwanda and travel to the Netherlands to visit my severely ill husband who I have not met for more than a decade also went unanswered,” she lamented.

Among the 14 members of Ingabire’s party behind bars, eight have been in pre-trial detention since late 2021. Another has reportedly disappeared in prison.

Rwanda is globally renowned for turning its fortunes around after the genocide 30 years ago.

Critics however accuse the government of human rights violations against members of the political opposition, journalists and civil society.

Violations cited include arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment, as well as violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association.

The election campaign officially kicks off on June 24.

The Rwandan government recently alleged a campaign by “a media flurry by the usual actors, timed to disrupt our upcoming presidential and legislative elections.”

“This objective will not materialise because of the strong unity and accountable political system that Rwandans have built over the years,” it stated.

“Rwanda’s democratic processes will continue, and Rwandans will make their choices about who they want to lead them into the future, peacefully and confidently.”

– CAJ News

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