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Rwanda to immediately free jailed opposition figure

The precise time of Victoire Ingabire’s release was not immediately clear but officials and lawyers said it would be on Saturday.

FILE: Rwandan opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire is led to the Rwandan High Court as the fourth week of her trial begins in Kigali, Rwanda September 12, 2011. Picture: AFP.

KIGALI - Rwanda has decided to immediately free Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader jailed for 15 years, after President Paul Kagame exercised his power to grant mercy, the justice minister said on Saturday.

Ingabire, who leads the unregistered FDU-Inkingi opposition party, will be freed along with other prisoners, including singer Kizito Mihigo, jailed in 2015 for plotting to kill President Paul Kagame, the justice ministry said in a statement.

“There is nothing political about her release, there is nothing political about her imprisonment,” Justice Minister Johnston Businge told Reuters by telephone, downplaying the significance of Ingabire’s release.

“The president has granted mercy, and under the constitution, he is allowed to do that,” he said when asked for comment, adding that she had asked for mercy two times in the past, including last June.

The precise time of Ingabire’s release was not immediately clear but officials and lawyers said it would be on Saturday.

Kagame is lauded for Rwanda’s economic recovery after the 1994 genocide but critics say he has muzzled free media and dissenting voices.

His office was not immediately available for comment.

Ingabire was jailed for 15 years in 2012 for conspiring to form an armed group to undermine the government and for seeking to minimize the 1994 genocide.

She returned from exile in the Netherlands to contest a presidential election in January 2010 but was barred from standing after being accused of genocide denial.

Her lawyer welcomed the decision to free her.

“Since the beginning of the trial we have been requesting her release and now that she is going to be free, we are all happy,” Gatera Gashabana told Reuters.

More than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda when an ethnic Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day massacre.

Afterwards, Kagame, who won a third term in August last year, was lauded for bringing about economic improvements, but he has faced increasing accusations of human rights abuses, suppression of the opposition and reining in the media.

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