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.
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.
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.
Ms Ingabire smiled as she left jail, dressed in the colours of her party.
She thanked the president and said she hoped her release marked the opening of “political space” in Rwanda.
Justice Minister Johnston Businge sought to play down the significance of Ms Ingabire’s release.
“There is nothing political about her release – there is nothing political about her imprisonment,” he told Reuters.
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.
Who is Victoire Ingabire?
Ms Ingabire returned from exile in the Netherlands in 2010 to take part in presidential elections.
She was arrested and barred from standing soon after, and has been in jail ever since.
Ms Ingabire, a member of the Hutu ethnic group, had questioned why Rwanda’s official memorial to the 1994 genocide did not include any Hutus.
Most of the 800,000 people killed were ethnic Tutsis but Hutu moderates were also slaughtered by the Hutu extremists.
Mr Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front put an end to the genocide.