Sac State alumna released from Rwandan jail

Diane Rwigara was arrested last year following a presidential run against long-standing Rwandan President Paul Kagame


Photo courtesy of Aristide Rwigara

Sac State Alumna and Rwandan opposition leader Diane Shima Rwigara was released, along with her mother Adeline Rwigara, from a Rwandan jail Friday. Rwigara was arrested last year following an attempted presidential run against long-standing president Paul Kagame.

Margherita Beale

Sacramento State alumna Diane Shima Rwigara and her mother were released on bail Friday from a Rwandan prison after being arrested last September on charges of tax evasion, forgery and inciting “insurrection.”

According to a previous State Hornet report, Rwigara, a businesswoman turned activist, attended Sac State from 2002 to 2004 and obtained a degree in business administration with a focus in finance. She was also a member of Sac State’s African Students Association in 2003.

A high court in Kigali, Rwanda granted Rwigara and her mother bail Friday, citing that some of the reasons for which they had been kept in jail no longer existed, as reported in The New Times, a Rwandan daily news organization.

“It’s not a permanent release, but it’s a huge deal, because they have been locked up for a year,” Rwigara’s brother Aristide said. “A lot of us were scared that they may never come out because in Rwanda they lock you up for no reason.”

According to a tweet from Rwigara’s handle, both she and her mother are out on provisional release and will still be tried in court.

The next set court date for the trial is Nov. 7.

A Friday tweet from Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority handle read that while the prosecution does not believe the bail and release should have been granted, they respect the decision of the court.

The prosecution will prepare for a trial in substance, the tweet also read.

Rwigara’s charges followed her attempt to run against Rwandan President Paul Kagame in last August’s presidential election.

Kagame — who has been president of Rwanda since 2000 — won last year’s election with almost 99 percent of the vote. Kagame gained power as leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front after the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and, during his time as president, has amended the Rwandan Constitution to eliminate term limits.

Generally, opposition in regards to Kagame and the Rwandan government as a whole has stemmed from claims of human rights violations. Last October, worldwide nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch released a report detailing torture and unlawful military detention, with practices including asphyxiation, beatings, death threats, electric shocks, mock executions and acid burns.

According to Aristide, Rwigara’s campaign during last year’s presidential election was the only one that presented a genuine opposition to Kagame.

“She was the only genuine opposition who really spoke her mind and exposed all the wrongdoings of Rwanda. She was the only one who posed a true challenge to President Kagame,” he said.

Prior to the election, Rwigara was disqualified from the running on grounds of forging the necessary number of signatures to be considered as a candidate, claims that Aristide said are false.

Following her disqualification, Rwigara, her mother, Adeline Rwigara and her sister, Anne Rwigara, were arrested. Anne was released from jail a few months later with no charges against her.

RELATED: Alumna jailed after attempting presidential run in Rwanda

Rwigara’s father, Assinapol Rwigara, also had experience with opposing the Rwandan government. According to Aristide, he was an independent businessman who refused to hand his assets over to the government.

While Assinapol’s death in 2015 was reported as a car accident, Aristide said his family believes it was an assassination at the hand of the Rwandan government.

“We know full well that it wasn’t a car accident,” Aristide said. “Everybody knows it wasn’t. After my father’s assassination, we spoke out about it. We went to the media. We wrote a letter to the president asking for a full investigation of my father’s assassination and that was basically the beginning of everything that has been happening.”

Rwigara and her mother’s release comes two weeks after the government’s early release of more than 2,000 convicts, which included Victoire Ingabire, a critic of the Rwandan government who was serving a 15-year jail term on charges of threatening state security and terrorism.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Justice on the Rwandan government’s official website, Kagame exercised a “prerogative of mercy” in accordance with the law in releasing the convicts.

Ingabire is a Rwandan activist and chairperson for the Unified Democratic Forces of Rwanda, a coalition of Rwandan exile opposition groups. She was the party’s candidate for the 2010 presidential elections, but was arrested later that year.

“I would just like for the pressure on the Rwandan government to be maintained for them to do the right thing,” Aristide said. “I hope that justice will be done. Not that it’s a habit of the Rwandan government, but I hope everybody can put in pressure so that my sister and my mother can have permanent freedom.”