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Rwanda appeals acquittal of Kagame critic Diane Rwigara

Wednesday December 12 2018

Diane Rwigara (front L), a critic of Rwanda's President

Diane Rwigara (front L), a critic of Rwanda's President, reacts as she leaves the Kigali's High Court, on December 6, 2018 after the judges dropped all the charges and declared her not guilty of forgery and inciting insurrection. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | AFP 

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KIGALI,

Rwanda's chief prosecutor on Wednesday said he would appeal after dissident politician Diane Rwigara was acquitted in a high-profile trial.

On December 6, the High Court found Ms Rwigara not guilty of forgery and inciting insurrection -- charges that had seen her imprisoned for more than a year and highlighted a crackdown on opposition in the East African country.

EVIDENCE IGNORED

Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana told reporters on Wednesday that he would file an appeal, arguing that prosecution evidence had been ignored.

"The prosecution was not satisfied by the ruling, and we have decided to file an appeal in the Appeals Court in the coming days," he said.

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"We had time to carefully read the ruling by High Court in the Rwigara case and we have now decided to go ahead and file an appeal at the Appeals Court. We believe that the evidence which we presented to the High Court was not given full consideration."

The prosecution has 30 days from the time of ruling to file its appeal.

Prosecutors had sought 22-year jail terms for Ms Rwigara and her mother.

UNUSUAL VOICE

Ms Rwigara, 37, is the daughter of Assinapol Rwigara, an industrialist who in the 1990s was a major donor to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) party before falling out with its leaders.

She became an unusual voice of criticism in tightly-run Rwanda ahead of the country's presidential election in August 2017.

Her bid to run in the poll was denied on the grounds she allegedly forged the signatures of supporters for her application.

She was arrested in September last year and charged with forgery and inciting insurrection for comments criticising the government and President Paul Kagame in the run-up to the vote.

But a panel of three High Court judges ruled the prosecution failed to prove that Ms Rwigara had personally forged signatures.

It also determined that her criticism of the government through press conferences was an exercise of her freedom of expression, guaranteed by both the constitution and international law.

WHATSAPP MESSAGES

Charges were also dropped against Ms Rwigara's mother Adeline and four others, and the appeal also concerns that ruling.

Ms Rwigara had exchanged Whatsapp messages with them in which she accused the government of killing her husband Assinapol Rwigara, who died in a car accident in 2015 that his family has long held was an assassination.

After her arrest, her brothers and sister were interrogated, family assets were forcibly auctioned to pay off a multi-million dollar tax claim, while a hotel they owned was demolished for allegedly failing to abide by city guidelines.

She was also the victim of a smear campaign when nude pictures, purporting to be of her, were shared online.