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Prison term for opposition leader

UPDATE: Opposition leader's sentence upheld (Human Rights Watch, 27 April 2012)

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, February 11, 2011 - The four-year prison sentence for Bernard Ntaganda, founding president of the PS-Imberakuri opposition party, strikes a blow to freedom of expression and democracy in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 11, 2011, the High Court in Kigali found Ntaganda guilty of endangering national security, "divisionism" - inciting ethnic divisions - and attempting to organize demonstrations without official authorization. The court sentenced him to two years each for the first two charges and fined him 100,000 Rwandan francs (approximately US$175) for the third. The charges relate to his public statements criticizing government policies. Human Rights Watch is not aware that he advocated violence in any of these statements. Ntaganda was not present when the judgment was read in court.

Three members of the FDU-Inkingi, another opposition party - Sylvain Sibomana, Alice Muhirwa, and Martin Ntavuka - were also fined 100,000 Rwandan francs each for attempting to organize demonstrations without official authorization. Another PS-Imberakuri member, Jean-Baptiste Icyitonderwa, was acquitted of the same charge.

The verdict comes just one week after two journalists, Agnès Nkusi Uwimana and Saidaiti Mukakibibi, were sentenced to 17 and 7 years respectively in connection with articles in the independent newspaper Umurabyo that were viewed as critical of the government and of President Paul Kagame. On February 4, the High Court in Kigali ruled that by publishing these criticisms, the journalists had incited the public to rise up against the state. It found both women guilty of endangering public order. Uwimana, the newspaper's editor, was also found guilty of "minimizing the genocide," which accounted for 10 years of her sentence, "divisionism," and defamation. Both were arrested in July 2010 and have been in detention ever since.

"These are blatantly political trials," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Ntaganda, his colleagues, and the two journalists - as well as many other men and women across Rwanda - are paying a heavy price for daring to express their opinions."

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Click here to read the entire press release

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