The verdict in the trial of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has again been postponed, this time until October. The trial has raised concerns about the independence of the country's courts.
The head of the unregistered Unified Democratic Forces (FDU)-Inkingi party, Victoire Ingabire, has been charged with backing the Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and inciting ethnic divisions. She has also been charged with denying the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which nearly a million people, most of them Tutsi and moderate Hutus, were killed in the 100-day killing spree.
Ingabire lived in exile in the Netherlands for 16 years. Her dream of getting her political party registered and pursuing a political career in her homeland vanished when she was detained and placed under house arrest on her return home in January 2010.
Ingabire has been attending court sessions since September 2011. Rwandan prosecutors are seeking a life sentence, but Ingabire and her British lawyer, Iain Edwards, are fighting for an acquittal. The verdict, which was originally due in June, has now been rescheduled for October 19, 2012.
Controversial genocide law
Two FDLR officers were accused along with Ingabire. The two have pleaded guilty to working together with her. However, Iain Edwards says that admission was made under "bizarre circumstances".
The genocide denial charges which Ingabire refutes are based on a statement she made on the day she returned to Rwanda from exile. At Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, she criticized the country for not having an effective policy towards national reconciliation.
"At this memorial center, it is only the Tutsi genocide which is commemorated. There is also a need to remember that the Hutu people were also massacred. In order for true reconciliation to be achieved, every side's plight must be taken into account," said Ingabire, who is herself a member of the Hutu tribe.
There has been criticism that the case against Ingabire is politically motivated, and that the charges are directly connected to a political conflict between the Rwandan government and two opposition groups, FDLR and FDU-Inkingi. Dr. Alexander Stroh, an expert on Rwanda with the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, GIGA, takes a cautious approach.
"There are laws in Rwanda, whether one likes them or not, which say that statements linked to genocide ideology and propagation of divisionism are liable to sentencing," he told DW.
"You can criticize those laws but they exist and prohibit persons from saying certain things in Rwanda," Stroh said, adding that, for him " if Ingabire is to be convicted, the more important question will be whether the motive is political or not.".
Opposition versus the regime
Victoire Ingabire is regarded as an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. That's why her lawyer has no doubt that the case against her is politically motivated. According to him, she has been "a fresh wind blowing in the country" who managed to make the regime uncomfortable. In April this year, Ingabire announced that she would boycott her trial after the court cut short a witness who accused Rwandan authorities of rigging evidence against her.
Ingabire is not the first Rwandan opposition figure to stand trial. In February, the Supreme Court sentenced Mushayidi Deogratias, the leader of another unregistered party, the Pact for People's Defense (PDP), to life in prison. He was found guilty of planning to overthrow the government. Bernard Ntaganda, of the PS-Imberakuri party, is currently serving a four-year sentence for endangering national security and inciting ethnic divisions in the country.
Victoire Ingabire with her lawyer Iain Edwards
Rwandan judicial system in question
These verdicts have raised concerns about whether the courts are serving the government's political agenda. Court spokesperson Charles Kaliwabo dismisses such allegations and insists that the Rwandan judicial system is totally independent.
"I don't think we have sufficient time to convince those who can't be convinced, but at least we ask them to judge us by what we do," he said.