On 3rd May 2017, Diane Shima Rwigara announced her intention to vie for presidency in the 2017 general elections of the Republic of Rwanda which would pit her against popular but highly controversial incumbent President Paul Kagame among other candidates. Three days later, nude photos of her were posted on social media in an attempt to humiliate her and taint her public image. In a statement to international media, Diane alluded that Kagame’s regime was responsible for circulating the photos which she claimed to have been photoshopped. On 7th July 2017, the National Electoral Commission disqualified Diane from participating in the general elections on the ground that that she had not submitted 600 valid signatures from her supporters. According to the commission, some of the submitted signatures belonged to dead people and were thus invalid. This decision was widely criticized by the international community. Two other candidates were similarly disqualified.
A week after her disqualification, Diane launched the People Salvation Movement, an outfit for human rights activism which is to, among other things, check the actions and inactions of the Kagame’s ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party. In August 2017, Paul Kagame was declared the President elect having garnered 98% of the votes. Following the disqualification of Diane and other candidates and the aggressive systemic obstruction and intimidation tactics employed against the contesting opposition candidates, many believe that this election was merely a coronation and not a real contest. This is Paul Kagame’s third term as president following a controversial constitutional referendum held in December 2015 which allowed him to contest for another term of 7 years upon the lapse of his final term (which was to come to an end in 2017) and two subsequent terms of five years each. This could see him occupy the presidency until 2034.
Paul Kagame is a controversial personality. He has been lauded for entrenching peace and stability in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. He has also been lauded for spurring massive economic growth in Rwanda. Further, over 60% of the members of Rwanda’s parliament are women making the country the global leader as far as women representation in parliamentary leadership. However, the Rwandan government has a horrible record as far as human rights go. Mr. Kagame has been adversely mentioned in several human rights reports by Human Right Watch, Amnesty International and various other organizations. There are documented cases of suspected political assassinations of anti-government voices and critics of Kagame in and outside the territory of Rwanda including Jean Damascene Habarugira who went missing in 2017 only for his deceased body to be recovered later at a local hospital, and Patrick Karegeya who was strangled to death in a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is also believed that the ruling party could have had a role in the assassination of former presidents Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi which sparked the 1994 genocide. Besides the above, the Rwandan government is accused of destabilizing neighboring countries by funding the M23 militia group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and militarizing refugees in Burundi towards toppling the respective incumbent governments.
Diane has been a fierce critic of the Kagame regime in an environment where opposition is been severely repressed and in many cases dissidents are exterminated. In early September 2017, Diane together with her sister and mother were arrested by police on tax evasion and forgery charges. Since then the family has been reporting to police for routine interrogation until late September 2017, when they were arrested and detained by Rwandan authorities for offences against “state security”. The family was accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Court denied bail for Diane and her mother citing that the sensitivity of the case made them flight risks. Diane’s sister was however released from police custody when her charges were lifted. The rest have remained in custody to date. In early February 2018, the court ruled in favour of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) which is to recover $6 million allegedly owed by Premier Tobacco Company, which belongs to Diane’s family. What began as a personal attack on Diane’s sense of dignity has since transcended to a political and economic witch-hunt of Diane and her family. In the face of such brazen acts by the Rwandese government to intimidate and repress opposition politics, you would expect the international community to rally behind Diane and her family. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. No sanctions have been proposed against Rwanda by world leaders to compel Rwanda to uphold human rights of the Rwandese people and to release Diane and her family. Given the historical reputation of Rwandese government, it may only be a matter of time before Diane and her family are exterminated for good. Accordingly, the world must act now!
In the meantime, you can take action today by signing this petition for release of Diane Rwigara and her family: https://www.change.org/p/eu-external-demand-that-the-rwandan-government-release-diane-rwigara-and-her-family