Will Dutch Minister Ben Knapen dare to plead for Opposition leader Victoire Ingabire?
by Anneke Verbraeken
Please let Victoire out and me in, mr Kagame!
The hospitality of Rwanda has its limits. I cannot follow my secretary of state, Ben Knapen, who is visiting Congo and Rwanda next week. The regime doesn’t want me: my visa was denied. Kagame who always speaks proudly of his country, the economic growth, democracy and freedom, doesn’t want me. Officially no reason was given, but everybody knows I’m not welcome because I’m a journalist who writes not so jubilant about the regime. But most of all, access was denied, because I’m a friend of Victoire Ingabire.
The visit of our secretary of state could be important for Ingabire, who is in custody since October 14th. The Dutch government should ask for her release, because she remains in custody illegally since December 25th. That was the date the prosecutor should have asked for a prolonging of bail. That never happened. There were other irregularities during her time in prison so a fair trial is already out of the question.
The accusations which led to her arrest, are the accusations used for everybody who dares to criticize the regime. Former manager of hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesebagina, leader of the socialist party Bernard Ntaganda, former Kagame-comrades Kayumba, Karegeya, Gahima en Rudasingwa, they all are accused of the same more or less: divisionism, genocide ideology, threat of state security, aid to or forming of a terrorist organization.
Because the accusations are false, witnesses and evidence have to be manipulated. Alice and Sylvain, housemates of Victoire and secretary and treasurer of FDU-Inkingi, were pressured into giving false statements. They were also threatened if they didn’t stop with their activities for the party. The lawyers of Victoire are now in the possession of her dossier. They are studying closely the 2086 pages!
Victoires dossier doesn’t include the documents found during the house search in Zevenhuizen. In this small Dutch village live the family of Victoire: husband and three children. The house search took place because Rwanda had asked for it. Timing was curious: just a week before, the ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to end budget support, because the lack of political space and press freedom. So there was a situation in which one ministry condemned the regime and another ministry obediently followed the orders of the same regime.
According to the secretary of state, Teeven, there are no obstacles to send the material, found during the house search, to Rwanda. But chances are, that those documents will be manipulated. If the Dutch government decide tot send the material to Kigali, I advise the government to make copies!
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Eurac, the organization for EU NGO’s in the Great Lake Region, also acknowledge that a fair trial is practically not possible.
It is all a bit ironic, because the Dutch government donates a lot to improve the judicial system in Rwanda. But you can improve whatever you like, if the president tells his people one day before a bail hearing that ‘this woman should remain in prison’, you can’t say Rwanda has an independent judicial system.
Let’s hope Ben Knapen, our secretary of state, is courageous enough to give a clear signal. A comparison with the Dutch-Iranian woman hanged in Teheran is a comparison easy made. But contrary to Zahra Bahrami, Ingabire doesn’t have the Dutch nationality. Therefore, our ministry of Foreign Affairs considers her case an internal Rwandan affair.
But it’s not a case of nationality. In Rwanda you have a regime that consistently oppresses the opposition. In Rwanda is no freedom of press. In Rwanda, civil society cannot develop. In Rwanda the judicial system is used for political means. In Rwanda you have a regime that enriches itself, just like Tunisia and Egypt, at the cost of the Rwandan population.
Therefore, it’s high time, the Dutch government, this time by its spokesman Ben Knapen, makes a clear statement. Knapen should insist in the release of all the political prisoners. Knapen should tell the president to release all journalists who perish in prison. Knapen should argue Ingabire doesn’t belong in jail.
And Knapen should make a statement the whole world can hear. The days of silent diplomacy are over.