A British mother-of-two has gone missing in Rwanda and may have been abducted by the African country’s feared security services, her husband said.
Nothing has been heard of Violette Uwamahoro, 39, a youth worker from Leeds, since she disappeared nearly two weeks ago in the Rwandan capital Kigali after travelling to attend her father’s funeral elsewhere in the country.
The mother-of-two had arranged to meet a relative at the city’s bus station on February 14 but failed to make the rendezvous and her mobile phone was switched off within minutes of her scheduled arrival time.
Her husband, Faustin Rukundo, believes his wife has fallen into the hands of Rwanda’s military intelligence as part of efforts to disrupt opposition to the country’s president, Paul Kagame, who has been frequently criticised by human rights groups for imposing an increasingly authoritarian grip on his citizens.
Mr Rukundo, a laboratory technician who gained British nationality along with his wife in 2014 and has lived in the UK since 2004, said he believed her disappearance was directly linked to his role as an activist in the opposition to Mr Kagame and fears she is being held incommunicado.
He said he has been contacted by an officer within the Rwandan military who confirmed his wife was being held by intelligence officers and he is now afraid he may never see her again. It is understood that Rwandan officials have told British diplomats that they do not know the whereabouts of Mrs Uwamahoro, who has two sons aged 10 and eight. Former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, who is Mrs Uwamahoro’s MP, has tabled a parliamentary question asking Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson what contact has been made with the Rwandan government concerning her disappearance.
Mr Rukundo, 37, said: “This is completely out of character for my wife. Up until 20 minutes before she was due to arrive in Kigali we were exchanging messages and nothing was wrong. Then she simply vanishes. We know that the government uses abduction against its critics and this seems to be a way of applying pressure on me and obtaining intelligence.
“I am incredibly worried for my wife’s safety. Our children are having nightmares and wanting to know where their mother is. I am very worried that unless the British government applies enough pressure we will never see Violette again.”
Human Rights Watch has warned of a spate of disappearances, unlawful detentions and politically motivated arrests in Rwanda ahead of the country’s presidential elections later this year.
Mr Kagame, who secured a change to the constitution to be allowed to stand for a third term this year, was lauded for leading his country’s recovery from the 1994 genocide which saw 800,000 people murdered, transforming the economy and holding together a country riven by the atrocities of its recent past.
But critics say that this has been at the price of tight restrictions on freedom of expression and increasing evidence of political repression with an opposition activist and a journalist disappearing last year. Human Rights Watch said the government was also arbitrarily detaining scores of poor people and placing them in ‘transit centres’ where inhumane treatment is common.
Mr Rukundo, who is a youth organiser with the Rwandan National Congress opposition group, said he had been able to access his wife’s email account since her disappearance and found all her messages had been forwarded to an address unknown to him.
He said: “My wife has no involvement politics. She had merely travelled home to attend her father’s funeral. I would implore the authorities to either charge her with an offence if they have evidence or let her go. Knowing she is alive is now the main thing for me.”
In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “We are providing assistance to the family of a British woman reported missing in Rwanda, and our staff in Kigali are in touch with local authorities.”