Rwanda’s highest court on Oct. 30 sentenced opposition politician Victorie Ingabrie to eight years in prison on charges connected to that country’s 1994 genocide.
Ingabrie was charged with six offenses: creating an armed group, complicity in terrorist acts, complicity in endangering the state through terrorism and armed violence, divisionism, genocide ideology, and spreading rumors intended to incite the public to rise up against the state.
Critics viewed the case as an important test of the current limits of democracy in the African country and the tolerance of President Paul Kagame for opposing political parties.
“The prosecution of Ingabire for ‘genocide ideology’ and divisionism illustrates the Rwandan government’s unwillingness to tolerate criticism and to accept the role of opposition parties in a democratic society," Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told allAfrica.com. “The courts should not be used for such political purposes.”
Ingabrie was accused of transferring money to Hutu rebels and of questioning why no Hutu victims were mentioned alongside Tutsi victims in a genocide memorial. More than 800,000 people were killed in the country when government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day killing spree in 1994.
Ingabrie pleaded not guilty in the trial, alongside four co- defendants, Vital Uwumuremyi, Jean-Marie Vianney Karuta, Tharcisse Nditurende, and Noel Habiyaremye, who were all members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, an armed group operating in the Congo which played a role in the genocide.
Uwumuremyi was sentenced to four years and six months in prison, Nditurende and Habiyaremye to three years and six months each, and Karuta to two years and seven months.
Phil Clark, a lecturer at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said the prosecution of Ingabire sent a message to other Rwandan political groups.
“I think this verdict will certainly cause concerns that if they contest they may find very serious charges brought against them as well,” he told The New York Times. “It sends a warning to other parties who may want to run in future elections.”