, KIGALI, Dec 13 – Rwanda’s Supreme Court on Friday sentenced opposition figure Victoire Ingabire to 15 years in jail on appeal, increasing her prison term from eight years for conspiring against the authorities.
The court upheld previous convictions for “conspiracy in harming authorities through terrorism and war” and for minimising Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which at least 800,000 people were killed by troops and extremists of the Hutu majority.
Ingabire, a Hutu and a leading critic of President Paul Kagame, who took power after a Tutsi rebellion ended the genocide, was also found guilty of spreading rumours to incite violence.
First arrested in October 2010, months after returning from 16 years in exile in the Netherlands, Ingabire, 45, has been a rare voice speaking out and challenging Kagame’s iron-fisted rule.
Ingabire, who heads the unrecognised opposition United Democratic Forces (UDF) party, was convicted in October last year of terrorism and denying genocide, but charges of spreading genocide ideology and of “setting up an armed group” were dropped.
Appealing to the Supreme Court in March, prosecutors asked for Ingabire’s punishment to be increased to the maximum of 25 years and called for judges to reconsider the dropped charges.
The prosecution also accused her of collaborating with armed Hutus in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who fled across the border to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after mainly Tutsi rebels led by Kagame ended the genocide.
Ingabire had pleaded with the court to drop all charges.
“We are disappointed, of course, but… we are going to wait for the written verdict which will be available as of next week,” her British lawyer Iain Edwards said after the hearing. “We will read it at length and reflect on what is to come.”
The verdict is not a surprise… we expected it,” said UDF vice-president Boniface Twagirimana. “Most of our members are in jail. We won’t give up the fight.”
The Supreme Court also rejected an appeal by a fellow defendant, Vital Uwumurenyi, and upheld his initial sentences of four and six years in jail, with one year suspended, for “the crime of conspiracy in harming authorities through terrorism and war” and for being an accomplice to terrorism.
The judges also rejected appeals by the prosecution for an extension of the light sentences given to three other accused, who have already served their terms and been freed.
Ingabire’s four co-defendants had confessed to being former members of the FDLR and they stated that she had given them money to set up an armed group to attack Rwanda.
Her husband, Lin Muyizere, has declared that if Ingabire had any discussions with the FDLR rebels, it was to make clear how she opposed integration with them.
“The armed struggle was not her field,” he has said.