Bernard Ntaganda and his colleagues founded the political party P.S. Imberakuri on Jan. 18, 2009. During its inaugural congress, the party was registered in July 2009, becoming the first opposition party to be registered in Rwanda. Ntaganda began his campaign by implementing mechanisms to promote national reconciliation and equality – for instance, the right for all to remember victims of the conflict in Rwanda during the 1990s, as well as respect of basic human rights with a judicial system that serves the people equally.
These kinds of actions were quickly noticed by the ruling party, RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Ntaganda was then summoned by the Senate twice, to intimidate him into submission and obedience to RPF like other parties that have adopted silence to avoid assassinations and arbitrations.
Also, the ruling party has managed to use certain P.S. members to create chaos within the party. On March 17, 2010, RPF’s cadres in the Kimisagara sector in Kigali and those from the Ministry for Local Government (MINALOC), the ministry in charge of political parties, created the P.S. faction Mukabunani with the help of then P.S. Vice President Mukabunani, using the participants of the Nyabugogo market rally. There, RPF brought their adherents, staged a false P.S. meeting and established Mukabunani as a leader of P.S.
After several attempts to neutralize the party unsuccessfully, the RPF arrested Ntaganda on June 24, 2010, which happened to be the same day that presidential candidates were supposed to register, with elections scheduled on Aug. 9, 2010. Ntaganda was accused of “disturbing national peace, divisionism and organization of illegal demonstration” and was sentenced to four years in prison. From the high court, where his case was heard on Nov. 2, 2011, to the court of appeal on April 27, 2012, Bernard Ntaganda was never allowed to bring a single witness in his defense.
Since he was arrested, he has been tortured and placed in isolation. On Oct. 14, 2010, he was rushed to intensive care as a result of RPF torture. Considering his deteriorating condition, the doctor put him on a special diet of fresh food that his family will have to deliver to him daily.
A few months later, back in confinement, torture and mistreatment went on. At the time, a new inmate was paired with Ntaganda with a mission to carry out gross mistreatments against him. Soon, that inmate, whose name is Uwumuremyi Vital – the same inmate used as a witness against fellow opposition leader Victoire Ingabire – frequently urinated in Ntaganda’s food. After that was discovered, Ntaganda was transferred from the high security 1930 Prison in Kigali to a prison in Mpanga in September 2012, apparently for the sake of his own safety.
Since his transfer to Mpanga Prison, his family has been struggling to bring him food, as it is almost 50 miles away. For this reason, Ntaganda’s family can bring him raw food only once a week that he must cook for himself in the prison kitchen. This short period of calm came to an end in January 2013.
This time was different. Together with Deo Mushayidi, president of PDP Imanzi, the two leaders decided to start a hunger strike demanding that their detention conditions be improved.
Subsequently, the prison director refused Ntaganda his weekly food supply and demanded that it should be delivered only once every two weeks or that he should buy his food from the prison canteen. However, the canteen is regularly out of fresh products, including vegetables.
For this lack of a strict diet, Ntaganda’s health conditions are dramatically deteriorating since the month of May. He then asked to see the doctor, but despite multiple requests from himself, his family and his party, the director of the prison refused to grant his health related request. The P.S. party called upon the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), which agreed to go to visit Ntaganda.
Once the ICRC arrived at Mpanga Prison, the director of the prison placed conditions on the ICRC: The visit with Ntaganda could take place only in presence of prison guards. The ICRC refused and had to contact prison headquarters in Kigali to be allowed to meet him freely. It is after this visit with the ICRC that Bernard Ntaganda was authorized to see the doctor. Since then, things had improved just a little bit until early August 2013.
On Aug. 9, 2013, we presented the list of party candidates to the Electoral Commission for the Sept. 16, 2013, legislative elections. The list was refused by the commission and replaced by that of Christine Mukabunani’s P.S. faction, the one installed by the RPF. We informed the main embassies and international organizations accredited in Kigali so that they could take notice of this masquerade of an election.
Once back in Mpanga Prison, he was kept in an isolated cell with his arms and feet tied with chains. We had this information on Sept. 1, 2013. Later on, we also learned that another political prisoner, Dr. Theoneste Niyitegeka, a presidential candidate in the 2003 election, was also detained in the same conditions after being beaten seriously by a prison guard. We do not have details on the current situation because visits are forbidden.
We urge the world to help preserve the lives of Bernard Ntaganda and other political prisoners.
By Alexis Bakunzibake
Alexis Bakunzibake is first vice president of the Rwandan opposition political party P.S. Imberakuri, based in Kigali, Rwanda. His statement was translated and edited by Jean Paul Romeo Rugero, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.