A Rwandan opposition official and eight others were charged on Wednesday with forming an armed group and seeking to overthrow the government – indictments that could see them jailed for life.
Boniface Twagirimana, the vice president of the FDU Inkingi movement, denied the charges in the Kigali court. The party’s leader, Victoire Ingabire, is already in jail, convicted of conspiring to form an armed group and other charges in 2013.
The prosecutor said the defendants had joined ‘P5’, describing it as an umbrella group of five organisations, including FDU Inkingi, operating outside the country
The central African nation has been widely praised for the speed of its economic growth, and for its overall recovery from the genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994.
But rights groups have accused it of fueling conflict and backing armed groups in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
President Paul Kagame has also faced mounting criticism for what activists say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media, and suppression of political opposition – accusations he dismisses.
Only one defendant pleaded guilty to a charge – Papias Ndayishimiye, who said he had planned to join the group to “offer some help”. He joined the others in denying plotting against the government.
They could be jailed for 10-15 years if convicted of forming an armed group, and for life if found guilty of planning to overthrow the government.
Early this month, police arrested Diane Shima Rwigara, a leading critic of Kagame, and charged her with forgery and tax evasion.
Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Andrew Heavens