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World: Rwanda frees 2 critics of President

President Paul Kagame and his government, which has a record of suppressing dissent and jailing critics, gave no indication what prompted them to free the prisoners, whose detention had drawn international condemnation.

The cabinet and the Ministry of Justice simply released terse statements Friday night that Kagame had granted clemency to 2,140 people and that the cabinet had approved.

Supporters of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of the opposition FDU-Inkingi political party and once a challenger to Kagame for the presidency, and Kizito Mihigo, an activist and well-known singer, musician and composer, posted photos of them leaving Nyarugenge Prison in the capital, Kigali, on Saturday, as did a local newspaper, The New Times.

It was not clear how many of the people who were released had been imprisoned on political charges.

Ingabire, who had lived for years in Europe, returned to Rwanda in 2010 and announced she was running against Kagame. She spoke openly about the 1994 genocide and the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups that fueled it — both taboo topics.

She was jailed within a few months of her return and forced out of the presidential race. In 2012, she was convicted of conspiring to undermine the government and denying the genocide, and sentenced to eight years in prison.

In a report on the case, the group Human Rights Watch said her trial had been marred by the use of questionable evidence and possible coercion of witnesses.

In 2014, Mihigo released a song that dealt with the genocide, and was questioned about it repeatedly by the police, then arrested. He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kill Kagame and to other crimes, though Human Rights Watch said he had been beaten and forced to confess.

In 1994, after members of the Hutu majority killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis, a rebel army led by Kagame overthrew the government and put a stop to the killing. He served as vice president from that year until 2000, when he became president.

Kagame at first won international praise for bringing stability to Rwanda, but he was later seen as increasingly autocratic. He had the constitution changed by a 2015 referendum to allow him to remain in office until 2034, and then won re-election in 2017, officially with 99 percent of the vote; international observers dismissed both elections as shams.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Richard Pérez-Peña © 2018 The New York Times


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