JOHANNESBURG - One of Rwanda’s most prominent opposition leaders walked free Saturday after the government approved the early release of more than 2,100 prisoners with little explanation.
Supporters of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and the state-run The New Times newspaper posted photos of the opposition leader walking out of Nyarugenge prison hours after the justice ministry’s announcement.
Also approved for early release was musician Kizito Mihigo, who along with Ingabire received a presidential commutation. The ministry statement said both had made their most recent requests for clemency in June.
Ingabire, head of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, was arrested in 2010 and found guilty of conspiracy to undermine the government and denying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, charges that she denied. She was sentenced to 15 years.
Human Rights Watch has called the charges politically motivated and linked to her criticism of the government ahead of the 2010 presidential election.
Mihigo had been convicted on charges of conspiring against the government.
Rwanda’s government has long been accused by rights groups of suppressing the opposition and having a justice system that lacks independence, which the government has denied. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the government uses accusations of “genocide ideology” as a way to silence critics.
Still detained in Rwanda is Diane Rwigara, who tried to challenge longtime President Paul Kagame in last year’s election but was disqualified from running over allegations that she forged some of the signatures on her nomination papers. She denied it.
Rwigara later was charged with inciting insurrection against the state.