Rwandan opposition leader withdraws from her trial

Published April 16, 2012

| Associated Press

A top Rwandan opposition leader said Monday she is withdrawing from a trial in which she faces charges of terrorism, citing a lack of judiciary independence.

Victoire Ingabire said she will no longer report to court to answer to charges she alleges are politically motivated.

Ingabire, who faces charges related to threatening state security, genocide denial and promoting ethnic division, has been in detention since October 2010. She has maintained her innocence against charges of genocide denial and ethnic divisionism. Her trial, along with that of her four co-accused, has been going on since September 2011.

"I cannot carry on with this case," she told judges Monday. "My trust in the Judiciary has waned. I and my legal representatives will not report to this court anymore."

The politician said that on several occasions the country's top leadership has said that she would be incarcerated and that she expects no less than that.

State prosecution described Ingabire's decision as "absurd and untimely," and one that undermines the country's justice system. Rwanda's Deputy Prosecutor Alphonse Hitiyaremye said they will carry on with the case, despite Ingabire's withdrawal.

"She was done with her defense, it was the turn of the prosecution to respond to defense and we expect the court will go ahead to listen to prosecution and the sentences it is asking for Ingabire," Hitiyaremye said.

Prosecutors in this trial have also accused Ingabire of offering money to rebels in the Congo to form a new militia. They also said that Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a hero by Don Cheadle in the film "Hotel Rwanda," was Ingabire's accomplice, though he lives in the U.S. and has not been charged.

Ingabire, who lived in the Netherlands for many years, returned to Rwanda in January 2010. Shortly after her return, she questioned why no Hutus were commemorated in a national monument to the genocide and promised to help Hutu prisoners.

It is illegal to question the official history of the genocide — something Ingabire, a Hutu, says should be allowed by a democratic government.

She was arrested several times following speeches, and banned from running in August 2010 presidential elections. She was eventually jailed.

The case against Ingabire and her four co-accused has highlighted Rwanda's struggle to move beyond the 1994 genocide, when extremist Hutus killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

Ingabire's trial has attracted international attention and is being closely observed by human rights groups. Many embassies in Rwanda have also sent observers.

Members of opposition parties were frequently arrested in the lead up to the August 2010 elections and journalists who have published articles critical of the government have been jailed or found dead. The mutilated body of one senior opposition figure was found three weeks before the presidential election. President Kagame was re-elected with 93 percent of the vote.

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