Opponent of Rwandan president denies insurrection, forgery charges in court

Diane Shima Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, is escorted by police officers from a courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

By Clement Uwiringiyimana-KIGALI (Reuters) – A prominent opponent of Rwandan President Paul Kagame pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of forgery and inciting insurrection and said she was being prevented from accessing her case file to chart her defence.

Any legal misstep in the trial of Diane Shima Rwigara could further mar the reputation of the long-ruling Kagame, who is credited for stabilising and developing Rwanda after its 1994 genocide but accused by rights groups of suppressing dissent.

Rwigara is accused of falsifying registration papers she filed to stand against Kagame in an August election and is the latest in a series of dissidents to face criminal charges. She was barred from running in the election, which Kagame subsequently won with an official 98.8 percent of the vote.

“I plead not guilty to all charges,” she told the court, adding that she had so far had scant access to her lawyer since police arrested her at her home on Aug. 30 on tax evasion allegations related to her family’s tobacco company.

Prosecutors said on Monday they could not disclose details of the charges because an investigation was still going on.

Adeline Rwigara, mother of Diane Shima Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, is escorted by police officers into a courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Rwigara accuses Kagame of stifling dissent and has criticised the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front’s (RPF) tight grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end the east African nation’s genocide.

Her mother Adeline and younger sister Anne are co-defendants in the trial and say the accusations are politically motivated.

Anne Rwigara, a sister of Diane Shiman Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, is escorted by police officers into a courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Their attorney, Pierre Celestin Buhuru, said he had not been given access to WhatsApp messages and recordings that prosecutors have presented as evidence.

The family has also asked for a return of money they said was confiscated by police during their raid in August so that they can appoint an additional lawyer.

The trial will resume on Friday.

Last month, Rwandan authorities charged another opposition official and eight others with forming an armed group and seeking to overthrow the government.

Diane Shima Rwigara, a prominent critic of Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, is escorted by police officers into a courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

(Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com