Two decades of attacks on the political opposition, independent media and human rights defenders have created a climate of fear in Rwanda ahead of next month’s election, Amnesty International warned in a new report on Friday.The organization is urging the government to prevent harassment of opposition candidates and their supporters ahead of the August poll, but also to initiate far-reaching reforms that will open up political space before the 2024 elections, allowing genuine debate and diverse opinions to be freely expressed.
“Since the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front took power 23 years ago, Rwandans have faced huge, and often deadly, obstacles to participating in public life and voicing criticism of government policy. The climate in which the upcoming elections take place is the culmination of years of repression,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Killings and disappearances in 2017 need to be placed in the context of many years of similar violence for which no one has yet been held to account. In this chilling atmosphere, it is unsurprising that would-be government critics practice self-censorship and that political debate is limited in advance of the elections,” she added in a statement issued in Nairobi.
The report documents how opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders have faced restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the two decades since the genocide.
They have been jailed, physically attacked – even killed – and forced into exile or silence, the report pointed out.