Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Rwanda leaders 'bullying critics'

Victoire Ingabire (Photo from UDF website:
Victoire Ingabire has spent the past 16 years in the Netherlands

Rwanda's government is attacking and intimidating its critics in the run-up to August's presidential election, the US-based Human Rights Watch says.

The group says the leaders target opponents by accusing them of having taken part in the 1994 genocide.

The aide of one opposition leader has been jailed for genocide crimes, but he claims he was abroad at the time.

President Paul Kagame says he respects people's rights but will not tolerate anyone undermining peace and stability.

However, Human Rights Watch says intimidation of the opposition is undermining democracy.

Beaten, jailed

The group cites the case of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who recently caused controversy by suggesting that crimes committed against the Hutu population during the genocide should be investigated.

She was denounced in media outlets close to the government as a "negationist" of the genocide.

Last week, her aide Joseph Ntawangundi was beaten up at a local government office and later jailed for crimes committed during the genocide.

Officials said he had been convicted in absentia while he was living in exile.

He has protested his innocence, saying he was in Europe during the genocide, but HRW says he has not yet been allowed to see his Rwandan lawyer.

"The Rwandan government already tightly controls political space," says HRW's Georgette Gagnon.

"These incidents will further undermine democracy by discouraging any meaningful opposition in the elections."

Ms Ingabire, a Hutu, was criticised last month for highlighting crimes against Hutus during the 1994 genocide.

Some 800,000 people were killed in 100 days of violence in Rwanda - most of them Tutsis, but many moderate Hutus were also massacred.

Ms Ingabire, who recently returned to the country after 16 years in the Netherlands, has been an outspoken critic of the government.

Mr Kagame's Tutsi-dominated former rebels took power to end the genocide.

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