, NAIROBI, Feb 19 – Amnesty International condemned Thursday what it called a worrying attack on a Rwandan opposition group in the run up to presidential elections in August.
The rights group said it had written to President Paul Kagame to urge him to "use the elections as an opportunity to show the government’s commitment to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly".
"Past elections have been marred by intimidation, however this year’s vote gives Rwanda the chance to promote rights not repression," Amnesty\’s Africa Programme deputy director Tawanda Hondora said in the letter.
The letter was prompted by an attack on two members of the FDU opposition party and the harassment of a new group, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Amnesty said in a statement.
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an opposition leader who returned from exile last month to stand in the poll, and her assistant Joseph Ntawangundi were attacked this month while collecting documents needed to register the FDU party.
Ntawangundi, who was badly beaten in the attack, was subsequently jailed after having been sentenced in absentia in 2007 to 19 years in jail by a tribunals set up to try perpetrators of the 1994 genocide.
About 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis, were killed in the genocide.
Green Party president Frank Habineza has also reported being threatened by a man he suspects to be a security agent, according to rights groups.
"Amnesty International is concerned that these recent incidents are part of a wider pattern of intimidation and harassment to discourage and discredit opposition groups," said Hondora.
Ingabire has been denounced in media close to the government for her calls since her return for the prosecution of war crimes against Hutus.
"Rwanda has an obligation to prohibit speech that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence," Hondora said.
"But Rwanda’s laws on genocide ideology too often conflate legitimate political dissent with such incitement."
Kagame, who has been in power since the end of the genocide, has been accused of muzzling the opposition and is widely expected to seek and secure re-election in August.