The Rwandan government has charged the 25-year-old daughter of an exiled pastor with treason and espionage after arresting and detaining her for weeks without due process.
Jackie Umuhoza, the daughter of exiled pastor Deo Nyirigira, was abducted as she came out of a beauty salon in the Central African nation’s capital, Kigali, on Nov. 27.
After her family announced her abduction on social media, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau confirmed that Umuhoza had been arrested on suspicion of treason and espionage, charges that carry punishments of up to 25 years in prison.
In a Nov. 28 tweet, the government agency said Umuhoza was being detained at an RIB office in Remera.
Human rights activists are calling for Umuhoza’s release as she has remained in detention without having been brought before a judge.
Amnesty International launched an advocacy campaign urging supporters to send letters to RIB Secretary-General Jeannot Ruhunga calling for Umuhoza’s release.
Although she was arrested in November, Amnesty International reported in late December that the prosecution had not confirmed a case against Umuhoza even three weeks after her arrest.
“The law relating to criminal procedure provides that a suspect can only be held for up to five days after their arrest,” Amnesty’s form letter to Ruhunga reads. “Further provisional detention after that time can only be decided by order of a judge on request by the public prosecution if they find serious grounds to bring a case.”
Amnesty International contends that unless Umuhoza is charged with an “internationally recognizable criminal offense,” she must be immediately released from “arbitrary detention.”
“Pending her release, I urge you to ensure that Jackie Umuhoza’s rights as a suspect are respected, including regular access to her family, any healthcare she may require and private communication with her legal counsel,” the Amnesty letter asserts. “She must be protected from torture and other ill-treatment in detention.”
Umuhoza’s father, Nyirigira, pastors the Agape Community Church in Mbarara, southern Uganda. Nyirigira and his family fled Rwanda in 2001 for Uganda on grounds of political persecution.
But Umuhoza and two sisters returned to Rwanda in the mid-2010s after completing their education.
The family says the sisters have repeatedly been summoned for questioning about their father’s activities since 2017 and have been ordered to denounce their father.
According to Amnesty, Nyirigira has been accused by pro-government media of recruiting for the exiled opposition group Rwanda National Congress.
At one point in March 2019, the sisters were detained for one week and had their Ugandan and Rwandan identification cards and passports confiscated.
Umuhoza’s two sisters were also arrested by security forces on Nov. 27 but were released the following day.
Although Rwanda has seen tremendous community reconciliation and economic growth since the horrific genocide of over a quarter-century ago, concerns have been raised that the controlling Rwanda Patriotic Front led by President Paul Kagame has silenced political dissent, cracked down on the free press and taken a stronghold on the Rwandan political system. Some have accused Kagame of being a dictator.
CNN reports that Umuhoza is one of many perceived political opponents of Kagame who have been abducted or have disappeared over the years.
"There are many cases in this country in which people are just kidnapped off the street by men dressed in civilian clothes, blindfolded, put in a tinted-windows vehicle, and driven off to unknown places," activist Arioste Rwigara told CNN. "Those victims either completely disappear, or are later found dead somewhere."
The RPF took control of Rwanda following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, where over 1 million Tutsi minorities were killed by their Hutu neighbors who were incited by hateful propaganda.
Pastor Nyirigira was an influential member of the RFP before he began distancing himself from politics and began launching churches.
Family members told CNN that Nyirigira was detained several times by state security agencies over his political ties. He and his family fled to Rwanda after the government closed down Nyirigira’s churches.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been speaking out about the killings and disappearances of political dissidents in Rwanda.
In September, Human Rights Watch called on Rwanda’s international partners and the United Nations to conduct a credible investigation into the recent deaths and disappearances of political opponents. In September, two unidentified men killed political activist Syldio Dusabumuremyi.
“On the international stage, Rwanda is a model of law and order, yet we are seeing a spate of violent and brazen attacks against opposition members go unpunished,” HRC’s Central Africa director Lewis Mudge said in a statement. “The contrast is jarring.”
California megachurch pastor Rick Warren also received criticism for his association with Kagame. Kagame participated in an event at Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest in April.