January 24, 2020 / 1:23 PM / in a month

Rwanda jails opposition figures for 7-12 years for 'conspiracy'

KIGALI (Reuters) - Six Rwandan opposition figures have been jailed for seven to 12 years after being convicted of forming an illegal armed group and conspiring against the government, state radio reported.

FILE PHOTO: Victoire Ingabire, leader of the unregistered Rwandan opposition party FDU-Inkingi, is seen at Mageragere Prison in Kigali, Rwanda, September 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana/File Photo

The six belonged to the FDU-Inkingi party, formerly led by Victoire Ingabire, an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame. Gatera Gashabana, the lawyer for the six, said they would appeal against their conviction and sentences.

Ingabire herself served six years of a 15-year prison term on charges of conspiring to form an armed group to undermine the government, before being released in 2018. She said the charges were politically motivated.

Human rights groups have long criticised the Rwandan government’s intolerance of dissent under Kagame and mysterious murders and disappearances of some opposition critics. The government has denied such accusations.

State-run Radio Rwanda, in a report late on Thursday, said the six newly sentenced to prison included Boniface Twagirimana, a vice president in the FDU-Inkingi, who along with one associate received a 10-year term.

Two other co-accused men were given 12 years while a seven-year sentence was handed out to others. The court, based in the south of Rwanda, acquitted four other defendants.

Prosecutors said the men had helped to form a rebel group in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo with the objective of toppling the government in Rwanda.

Over the years, Rwanda has accused various rebel groups operating out of the jungles of eastern Congo of plotting to destabilise it or overthrow Kagame’s government.

Ingabire described the latest convictions as politically motivated as well. “The charges in themselves are political,” she told Reuters. “The current political party in power in our country doesn’t want another strong political party in Rwanda.”

The state minister in the foreign ministry, Olivier Nduhungirehe, said Ingabire’s comments were “nonsense”.

“She is here questioning the decisions of our judiciary.” Nduhungirehe said in a WhatsApp message.

Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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