By Claude Gatebuke
The world continues to learn a side of Rwanda under Paul Kagame that has been hidden for years: the repression against peaceful, critical voices inside and outside the country. Currently, two more high-profile Rwandans are in danger of losing their lives or liberty after making statements or social media interactions the government of Rwanda wants to silence. Aimable Karasira has spoken about injustices in the country as well as the murders of multiple members of his family by the party in power in Rwanda. Mitsinzo Viateur, on the other hand, has mostly interacted with social media posts by Rwandans criticizing the government.
In a BBC report in November 2020 entitled “The loyalty oath keeping Rwandans abroad in check,” Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, stated, “The Rwandan authorities have a whole toolbox of tactics that they use to suppress dissent at home and abroad, ranging from harassment to threats to illegal detention, disappearances, torture, and even extending to returning Rwandan dissidents from other countries back to Rwanda without going through extradition proceedings . . . and to threatening family members too.”
The kidnapping of world-famous humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina in late August provides the most glaring evidence of such suppressive practices. Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, was kidnapped from Dubai and taken to Rwanda. He was then accused of being a part of terror or armed groups abroad and is currently facing a sham trial in Rwanda.
The tools of repression continue in full force today against two other well-known Rwandans: Aimable Karasira, a popular musician and YouTuber, and Mitsindo Viateur, an instructor to dozens of young people practicing acrobatics.
The case of Mitsindo Viateur is alarming because he has not been seen by his family since November 17. He left his home to respond to a summons by local authorities. When his wife asked the summoning local authority, the local authority, named Genevieve Uwamahoro, stated that Viateur had been taken in handcuffs by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and had no further news. However, in spite of Ms. Uwamahoro’s claim of seeing him in handcuffs, the RIB denied having Mitsindo Viateur in custody for a whole week. After some public pressure by various individuals, the RIB reported that they had him. However, his wife and children have not seen him, and his wife has not been allowed to visit. The RIB claimed on social media and government propaganda newspapers broadcasting in Kinyarwanda that Mitsindo Viateur was being investigated for involvement with armed or terror groups—the same charge against Paul Rusesabagina.
As of this writing, Mitsindo Viateur has not been seen in public since mid-November and has not been produced in court. His charge is similar to not only that against Paul Rusesabagina but also those against other high-profile individuals such as previous presidential candidates Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara, who served eight years and one year, respectively, in prison on this same charge of being involved with armed groups or terror groups. In essence, the two candidates were punished with long prison sentences for challenging Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, in an election. The accusation of being a part of armed groups was also one of the main charges against recently assassinated popular gospel music singer Kizito Mihigo. In fact, Kizito Mihigo also disappeared for ten days before being produced, not in court, but in public where he was paraded in front of journalists without a lawyer in 2014. He served four years in prison on trumped-up charges and was eventually released in October 2018, only to be re-arrested in February 2020 and die in police custody within four days of his arrest.
There is extreme concern that Mitsindo Viateur has been tortured and is being hidden from the public until he recovers. Instead of producing him in court or showing him to the public, the government of Rwanda has instead begun a smear campaign accusing him of being part of armed groups and spreading hateful messages.
Aimable Karasira, like Kizito Mihigo, is a popular singer. Karasira’s YouTube channel is one of the most popular channels among Rwandans at home and abroad. Karasira has been under constant pressure and harassment that are similar to the lead-up to the arrests of Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara. Like Kizito Mihigo, Aimable Karasira is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Karasira has openly spoken about surviving the genocide and also about how his parents and sister were killed by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) troops after the genocide. The RPF is the party in power today responsible for killing millions of lives inside Rwanda and the Congo. The RPF party members and Rwandan security agents also carry out assassinations, abductions, kidnappings, and other illegal activities abroad. Members of the RPF take an oath that states: “If I betray you or stray from the RPF’s plans and intentions, I would be betraying all Rwandans and must be punished by hanging”; they also swear to fight “enemies of Rwanda, wherever they may be,” BBC reports. The recent BBC report includes such a swearing-in ceremony taking place in the UK. Members of the RPF, mostly military but also civilian, take part in attacks against those who speak out against the RPF and the regime in Rwanda and abroad.
For months, Karasira has been under constant harassment by high-ranking authorities in Rwanda as well as high-ranking members of the RPF, with character assassination as the main tool of harassment. This is usually a sign of things to come in terms of disappearance, being illegally detained, or having trumped-up charges brought up against the targeted individual, Karasira in this case. In fact, the ramping up of this character assassination campaign has already yielded results: he was fired as a university lecturer earlier this year for statements he made on his social media accounts. Today, the leading figures in the smear campaign against Karasira are government official Edouard Bamporiki and member of the RPF Tom Ndahiro, two individuals notorious for spreading hate within and outside of Rwanda.
Some of the accusations against Karasira are that he denies the 1994 genocide, a crime in Rwanda. However, this does not hold water as he openly speaks about surviving the same genocide. Only in Rwandan officials’ logic does a person deny the same thing he testifies to have survived.
While Mitsindo Viateur’s life appears to be in great danger because no one has seen him since he responded to authorities’ summons in mid-November, Aimable Karasira is in danger of losing his liberty due to the Rwandan government’s witch hunt of those who disagree with its practices. These cases of Mitsindo Viateur, Aimable Karasira, Paul Rusesabagina, Kizito Mihigo, Diane Rwigara, and Victoire Ingabire are just a small representation of thousands of victims of this regime’s pattern of egregious violations of human rights, civil rights, and freedom of law-abiding, peaceful dissenters.
Rwanda receives foreign aid from western nations such as the US, the UK and the European Union. Donor nations should cease providing aid to Rwanda until these horrible practices of killing, abducting, and torturing people inside and outside of Rwanda stop. The world must raise its voice against Paul Kagame and his death squads around the world as well as against his repression inside of Rwanda. Sharing this article and demanding the release of Mitsindo Viateur are steps individuals may take to help today by shining light on these atrocities.