Diane Rwigara is a Rwandan businesswoman and former presidential candidate on trial, along with her mother, for a variety of alleged national security offenses. She faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.
Prior to her career as an activist, Rwigara worked as an accountant. She is the daughter of Assinapol Rwigara, a key financial supporter of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. However, in 2007, he was targeted for arrest for allegedly plotting a coup. He avoided arrest, but died in a car accident in 2015. The Rwigaras petitioned President Paul Kagame to investigate the death, but he refused. Rwigara distanced herself from the Rwandan Patriotic Front after her father died, claiming he was assassinated.
In May 2017, Diane Rwigara announced that she would run in the upcoming presidential election against President Kagame. Within 72 hours of this announcement alleged nude photos of Diane were posted on social media. The National Electoral Commission subsequently barred Diane from participating in the election, ruling that hundreds of signatures she submitted to validate her candidacy were forged. Within this same time period, the Rwandan Revenue Authority notified the Rwigara family that they owed $6.7 million in taxes. As a result, the government closed the family business and froze their bank accounts.
After her failed presidential bid, Diane started the People’s Salvation Movement to challenge the regime’s human rights record. In particular, she spoke out about suspicious murders of government critics.
On August 29, 2017, the Rwigaras and Diane’s sister Anne were detained and interrogated by the police; the Rwigaras were reported missing until September 4, when the government officially arrested Diane, Adeline, and Anne on a variety of tax and forgery offenses. Diane was also charged with using false documents during her presidential candidacy. The police claimed that the arrest was conducted because the women failed to respond to three separate summonses. Police reported that they arrived at the house, jumped the gate and found the three women hiding in the annex of the house. The Rwanda Police Twitter posted regarding the Rwigara’s warrant, stating that the women were being taken to the Criminal Investigations Department for questioning
The women were released from custody on September 5, but re-arrested on September 23, under new charges. Adeline was charged with inciting insurrection and sectarian practices, while Diane herself was charged with forgery, sectarian practices, and inciting insurrection.
Pre-trial hearings began on October 6, 2017 before the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court in Kigali. Some of the evidence presented against Diane are non-violent statements she made criticizing the government’s human rights record. Since the Rwigaras has been in prison there have been allegations of torture, denial of medical care, and prevention of family visits. On October 23, 2017, Anne, who is a U.S. citizen, was released. Diane and Adeline were granted provisional release on October 5, 2018, but remain under a travel ban with charges still pending.
On September 21, 2018, Freedom Now and Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Diane and Adeline.
Petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Diane and Adeline Rwigara