(New York) - The Rwandan government should fully respect the rights of opposition party members and allow them to carry out their legitimate activities without fear for their safety, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch issued its statement in response to the re-arrest of Victoire Ingabire, president of the opposition party FDU-Inkingi, and the transfer from prison to a hospital of Bernard Ntaganda, president of another opposition party, the PS-Imberakuri, both on October 14, 2010. Both parties have been critical of the Rwandan government and were prevented from participating in the presidential elections in August.
Ntaganda was arrested on June 24 and has remained in detention awaiting trial. He had been on a hunger strike to protest his treatment in prison. On October 14, he was rushed from Kigali Central Prison to the Centre Hospitalier de Kigali (CHK), Kigali's main hospital. His relatives and friends reported that he was in intensive care, but were not given specific information on his condition. Some of them were able to see him briefly in hospital and reported that he was very weak. That evening, he was transferred to King Faysal Hospital, also in Kigali.
"We are worried about Bernard Ntaganda's condition," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should ensure he has access to appropriate and prompt medical treatment and that family and friends are allowed to visit him. They should also ensure that if his condition suggests evidence of abuse, for example that he has been ill-treated or attempts have been made to force feed him or retaliate against him for his hunger strike, this is immediately investigated."
In the days preceding Ntaganda's transfer to the hospital, friends had been refused permission to visit him in prison. On their most recent attempt to visit on October 13, prison officials reportedly told them that they would be able to see him on October 15 - by which time he had been transferred to the hospital.
The authorities should ensure that proper medical information about the condition of his health and the treatment he is receiving is available to his family, Human Rights Watch said.
The arrest of Victoire Ingabire came after police had surrounded her house for several days. Then on October 14, they came to her house and took her to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), where she was questioned in the presence of her lawyer. She was then transferred to Kicukiro police station, where she remains. Colleagues who brought her food and water on the morning of October 15 were not allowed to see her.
According to police statements, Ingabire's interrogation relates to testimony from a former commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, FDLR). The FDLR is an armed group active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, some of whose members took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The commander, who was arrested on October 13, allegedly implicated Ingabire in activities to form a new armed group.
"The police should grant Ingabire access to visitors and should respect her rights to due process," Peligal said. "If she is to be charged, it should be on the basis of solid evidence, not as a punishment for her criticisms of the government."
Members of the PS-Imberakuri and the FDU-Inkingi were subjected to persistent harassment and intimidation in the period leading up to presidential elections in August. Neither party was able to field candidates in the elections, which the incumbent, Paul Kagame, won with 93 per cent of the vote.
On June 24, police arrested Ntaganda, raided his house and the party office, and took away documents and other belongings. Ntaganda was accused of several offenses, including endangering national security, and inciting ethnic divisions (in relation to his public statements criticizing government policies) and organizing demonstrations without official authorization.
Ingabire was questioned by the police numerous times in the first half of the year. In March, police stopped her at Kigali airport and prevented her from leaving the country. In April, she was arrested and brought before a court to face accusations of "genocide ideology," "divisionism," and collaboration with the FDLR. She was released on bail, with charges still pending, and is not allowed to travel outside the capital.
Several other members of the PS-Imberakuri and the FDU-Inkingi were arrested in June and July, some when they attempted to hold a demonstration on June 24. Some were released; others remain in detention. Several were ill-treated by the police. They were beaten and kicked, and were kept handcuffed to other prisoners, even while eating and going to the toilet.
Members of a third opposition party, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, also received threats in the pre-election period. The party's vice-president, André Kagwa Rwisereka, was brutally murdered in July; his mutilated body was found outside the town of Butare. The circumstances of his death remain unclear. Police arrested a suspect but released him a few days later. No further judicial action has been taken.