Rwanda High Court has ordered the release on bail of political critic of President Paul Kagame, Diane Rwigara following her arrest and detention in October 2017.
High Court judge ruled that Ms Rwigara, who was arrested along with her mother last year, would be released immediately but that they were not allowed to leave the capital Kigali without authorization from Court.
Rwigara and her mother were jailed on charges of incitement and forgery that were widely seen as politically motivated. Kagame is praised for restoring stability in Rwanda and for rapid economic progress after a genocide in 1994.
But rights groups say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed opponents. The government dismisses those accusations as false.
Justice Claire Bukuba said in the court’s ruling that Rwandan law “provides that the defence can request bail, dismissing the prosecution’s claim that the defendants are a risk to the country’s national security.
As she read the ruling to the courtroom which was packed with diplomats, journalist and relatives of the two women who were wearing light pink prison uniforms, the room erupted into cheers and several people shouted “Praise to God,”.
The 37-year-old businesswoman and activist has repeatedly accused Kagame of stifling dissent and criticised his Rwandan Patriotic Front’s near total hold on power since it fought its way to office to end a genocide in 1994.
Rwigara’s sister Anne, who is a US citizen, was also charged last year with incitement though she was later granted bail. After the ruling, Anne told Reuters: “This should not have happened in the first place. They should not have been incarcerated. I don’t know if it is the end of harassment but we hope it is,”
A spokesman for Rwanda’s top prosecutor said that the court decision was based on law and must be respected. “We will consider whether to challenge it or not and of course continue to prepare our trial,” Faustin Nkusi said.
The court’s ruling comes several weeks after Rwanda freed Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader who had served six years of a 15-year jail term, after Kagame exercised his power to grant a pardon.
After attending Friday’s court hearing, Ingabire said she was very happy that the two Rwigara women had been released. She called on the government to release members of her political party who are still jailed and to release all other political prisoners in the country.
“I hope this is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda”, she said.
Ingabire leads an unregistered opposition party, the FDU-Inkigi, and she was freed along with several other prisoners, including singer Kizito Mihigo, jailed in 2015 for plotting to kill Kagame.
Also last month, two opposition MPs won seats in the country’s 80-seat parliament for the first time. The legislature is tightly controlled by Kagame’s ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which fought its way to power to end the genocide.