The Rwandan police announced today that Violette Uwamahoro, the wife of an opposition group official, is in police detention. She had been held incommunicado for more than two weeks.
Uwamahoro was last heard from on February 14. She had called a family member to announce her arrival at the main bus station in Kigali, the capital. Her phone went dead a few minutes later.
Uwamahoro, who has been living in the United Kingdom, had gone to Rwanda to attend her father’s funeral. Uwamahoro’s husband, Faustin Rukundo, is a vocal and active member of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition group in exile, composed mainly of former members of Rwanda’s party in power.
In a statement quoted by Rwandan media, the police spokesperson said that, “Violette Uwamahoro was apprehended by Rwanda National Police (RNP) based on a tip-off that she is involved in criminal dealings constituting serious crimes, including attempts to recruit people into a criminal network.” He added that, starting today, she can receive visitors.
Under Rwandan and international law, all detainees have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them, to contact their family and lawyer, and to have their detention reviewed by a judge. The authorities should promptly bring Uwamahoro before a judge and charge her with a credible offense, or release her.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of incommunicado detention in Rwanda in recent years, often of individuals suspected of links with government opponents. Several individuals have been forcibly disappeared, which occurs when the authorities deny having a person in custody or refuse to disclose their whereabouts.
There is still no news about an opposition activist and a journalist who went missing last year. Both are relatives of opposition members. During a trial of former military personnel last year, the defendants said they were targeted because of their family links to prominent RNC members. Two senior former military officers were sentenced to lengthy prison terms because of comments they made that were critical of the government.
Presidential elections will be held in Rwanda in August. For these elections to be credible, Rwandan citizens will need to be able to participate in the electoral process without worrying that their loved ones might disappear or be held incommunicado if they dare to speak out.