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Rwanda releases 2,000 prisoners

September 15, 2018

In a surprise move, 2,140 prisoners including opposition leader Victoire Ingabire and musician Kizito Mihigo, have been released from jail. The motive for the move remains unclear.

Victoire Ingabire during her 2011 trial in Rwanda
Victoire Ingabire during her 2011 trial in RwandaImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Terril

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, musician Kizito Mihigo and 2,138 others were released in a surprise move on Saturday, following a cabinet meeting on Friday when a presidential "mercy" order was approved. Both Ingabire and Mihigo had made requests for clemency in June.

"I thank the president who gave me this liberation," Ingabire said as she left Mageragere Prison in Kigali. "This is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda, I hope so."

Ingabire called on  President Paul Kagame: "To release other political prisoners." Hundreds more are believed to be behind bars, including Diane Rwigara whose attempt to stand in last year's elections was thwarted over allegations she forged signatures on her nomination papers. She was then charged with inciting insurrection against the state.

Parliamentary elections were held on September 2 and final results are expected on Sunday.

Long sentences

The opposition, ethnic Hutu leader, Ingabire has been in jail since 2010 when she returned from exile in the Netherlands to run for president.

Instead she was arrested and charged with terrorism and treason. She was given a ten year sentence for "genocide ideology" and "divisionism" after she raised questions over the 1994 genocide of mostly Tutsi people which left 800,000 people dead.

Mihigo was arrested in 2015 and jailed for 10 years on charges of conspiracy to murder the president.

Kagame's rebel army brought the genocide in 1994 under control. Since taking power he has changed the constitution, allowing him to retain power until 2034.

jm/mm (Reuters, AFP)

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