The verdict in the trial of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has been postponed until 7 September. This was announced at the High Court today. The judges said they needed more time, RNW correspondent Arne Doornebal said. It is not clear whether the postponement is related to a revision of Rwanda’s anti-genocide law planned for July.
By Saskia Houttuin and Sophie van Leeuwen
The Rwandan opposition leader was arrested in her Kigali home on 14 October 2010, for allegedly collaborating with a terrorist organization, dividing the people of Rwanda and denying the 1994 genocide, where an estimated 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a roughly 100-day period.
She has been awaiting the verdict in a prison in the Rwandan capital.
After spending years in exile in the Netherlands, Victoire Ingabire, who is part of the Hutu community, returned to Rwanda with the intention of running in the 2010 presidential elections.
When she arrived in Kigali, as chairman of the Unified Democratic Forces (UDF), she called for the prosecution of those responsible for crimes against Hutus. Shortly after making her statement, she was placed under house arrest. Meanwhile, incumbent President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was re-elected.
Ingabire and her supporters have accused Kagame of eliminating his political opponents.
Reactions from supporters
Supporters of Ingabire are somewhat relieved, but remain worried. Lin Muyizere, Ingabire’s husband who lives in The Netherlands, told RNW that it’s a good thing the High Court is awaiting the new anti-genocide law. "I hope Victoire will get her rights".
Boniface Twagirimana, FDU’s Interim Vice President, told RNW correspondent Arne Doornebal that he is surprised by the postponement. “The court states they didn’t have enough time to analyse her dossier. That’s not true, they’ve had plenty of time.”
But the High Court has an explanation. Charles Kaliwab , spokesperson at Kigali’s High Court told RNW: "Her case was a major one; it was argued for more than six months. There are many conclusions, observations and analyses. [The judges] just want to have sufficient equipment to compose a well written verdict".
Worries from The Netherlands
Human rights activists and foreign politicians have expressed doubts as to whether Victoire Ingabire was given a fair trial. Rwandan minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama told RNW "it’s after the trial that we should be able to say whether it was fair or transparent". Dutch MPs have also repeatedly raised questions about the rule of law in Rwanda.
Dutch authorities have assisted the Rwandan government several times by authorizing searches of her home near Rotterdam and dispatching documents for the purpose of her trial in Kigali. The reason they gave for this support is that Ingabire has been a resident of the Netherlands for over 16 years. The countries have signed a judicial assistance agreement.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in documents published in 2011, wrote that it had no reason to doubt that Ingabire was being given a fair trial. "There is no clear and solid ground to reject Rwanda's request for assistance in the trial of Victoire Ingabire", the Ministry wrote.
New law, new prospects?
Still, the question remains if the postponement is in any way related to a revision of Rwanda’s anti-genocide law planned for next month. The current law has been criticised for years by human rights organisations.
Twagirimana doesn’t think the renewed anti-genocide law will benefit her, since she has been accused of two other severe crimes. "It will allow the Rwandan population to breathe. But on the other hand, people change laws, but then they keep using tricks to [manipulate] the law".
Kaliwab of the Kigali High Court also denies any possible connection. "The request to postpone her verdict [by her defense lawyers] came after the closing of the hearings".