Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was jailed for eight years on Tuesday after a court found her guilty of terror charges and denying the country’s genocide, but her lawyer immediately said she would appeal.
“She has been sentenced to eight years for all the crimes that she was found guilty of,” Judge Alice Rulisa told the court, adding however that she was innocent of another charge of “calling for another genocide.”
Rulisa said the leader was found guilty of the “crime of conspiracy in harming authorities through terrorism and war,” as well as denial of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
The genocide denial charges against Ingabire were triggered by remarks she made in January 2010 at the memorial to the estimated 800,000 people, the majority of them Tutsis, who were killed in the slaughter.
Ingabire, herself a Hutu and the leader of the Unified Democratic Forces (FDU), a political grouping that has not been allowed to register as a party, said it was time Hutu war victims were also commemorated.
She refused to attend the hearing on Tuesday and chose to remain in jail where she has been held since October 2010.
Her British lawyer Iain Edwards said they would appeal the conviction, which he called a “disappointment.”
“We thought she would be acquitted of all charges, but we will appeal, first to the Supreme Court and then, if that fails, we will go to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights,” he said, referring to a court based in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.
The FDU condemned the conviction, saying the court “process was marred by intimidation, interferences and unfairness.”
Rights group Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday that the ruling is “the culmination of a flawed trial that included politically motivated charges,” adding that it was concerned Ingabire did not receive a fair trial.
“Several factors lead us to conclude that Ingabire did not receive a fair trial,” the group said.
“These include the politically motivated charges, doubts about the reliability of some of the evidence, senior government officials’ public statements before the trial about Ingabire’s guilt, and broader concerns about the lack of independence of the Rwandan judiciary in politicized cases,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Ingabire returned to the country from exile in the Netherlands in January 2010, and shortly after called for the trial of those responsible for the deaths of Hutus in the genocide.
During the trial, prosecutors showed what they said was evidence of Ingabire’s “terrorist” activities, including proof of financial transfers to the FDLR, a Hutu rebel movement based in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ingabire, who denied all the charges, was accused of “giving financial support to a terrorist group, planning to cause state insecurity and divisionism.”
Four other co-accused, who admitted to being FDLR members and said they received money from Ingabire to set up an army to attack Rwanda, were also convicted, receiving sentences of between two and four years.
Ingabire’s FDU have accused Kigali of fabricating evidence against its leader to prevent her from participating in the political life of the small central African country.
She boycotted her trial midway through proceedings after the court cut short a witness who accused the Rwandan authorities of rigging evidence against her.
The witness, a former FDLR spokesman, said that Rwandan intelligence services had offered money to rebels to make false claims over Ingabire’s ties with the group.