By Claude Gatebuke
Stating the truth about repression and atrocities committed by Paul Kagame’s regime in Rwanda is treated as a criminal offence. Speaking the truth is criminalized. Kagame’s government which uses physical violence, torture, assassinations, and enforced disappearances as tools to silence independent voices has mastered the practice of making up charges using ill defined laws to carry out its repression. In high profile cases such as presidential challengers in elections such as Victoire Ingabire, Diane Rwigara and Fred Barafinda; lengthy prison sentences and detentions are given to candidates challenging Kagame. To set up individuals for arrest, torture, dissappearance or assassinations, the Rwandan government uses its propaganda newspapers as well as individual members of the government or the ruling party, who run smear campaigns to demonize the targetted individuals. After that, charges are made up, critics arrested, sham trials held and lengthy detentions or prison terms are served. In more alarming cases, after the smear campaign by members of the ruling party and members of the government, those who are targetted or dissappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
Stating the truth about repression committed by the ruling Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) government had a high price even for journalists. Uwimana Agnes Nkusi and Saidath Mukakibibi served seven and four year sentences respectively for criticizing Kagame. Another journalist, Cyuma Hassan, was held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year for reporting on the RPF government’s destruction of poor people’s houses at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Even gospel singers are not spared. Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer was assassinated in a police cell in February 2020. Kizito had previously served four years in prison for singing a song calling out killings by the RPF. Kagame took it so personally that he verbally attacked Kizito Mihigo in a speech shortly after the song was released. Now the government has tuned on another singer, Aimable Karasira for his expressions on YouTube and his music. With all speech being stiffled in the country, Rwandans have turned to youtube as a tool to freely express themselves. In turn, the government has aimed its wrath on YouTubers. A few months prior to Karasira’s arrest, another outspoken YouTuber who criticized the regime, Idamange Iryamugwiza Yvonne, was also arrested and has spent the last three months in pretrial detention.
Aimable Karasira is a popular singer and a phenomenal spokesperson for the common Rwandan person. Karasira’s YouTube channel is one of the most popular channels among Rwandans at home and abroad. He was arrested on May 31,2021 by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and charged with genocide denial, justifying the genocide and divisionism.
Karasira has been under constant surveillance, pressure and harassment that are similar to the lead-up to the arrests of Kizito Mihigo, Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara. Like Kizito Mihigo, Aimable Karasira is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Karasira has openly spoken about surviving the genocide and also about the fact that after surviving the genocide, his parents and sister were killed by the RPF after the genocide. The RPF, in power since 1994, is responsible for killing millions of people inside Rwanda and the Congo. The RPF party members and Rwandan security agents also carry out assassinations, abductions, kidnappings, and other illegal activities abroad. In fact, official 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,”. A recent BBC report includes such a swearing-in ceremony taking place in the UK.
RPF members, mostly military but also civilian, take part in attacks against those who speak out against the RPF and the regime inside Rwanda and abroad. The RPF also has unofficial members: those who did not take the oath but serve in various capacities including surveillance inside and outside the country, infiltration, smear campaigns, demonization of critics, whitewashing of RPF crimes, and harrassment of Rwandans worldwide. One of the most notorious groups that serves the RPF in this capacity is IBUKA, an organization setup to represent interests of Tutsi genocide survivors. However in reality, the group is a hate group that acts as a branch of the government. In fact, Tutsis such as Karasira, Kizito, Idamange and countless others who reject the RPF’s repression, crimes and hate-mongering openly reject IBUKA. In turn, IBUKA serves as one of institutions that constantly harasses such survivors instead of serving its purpose of supporting survivors; members of IBUKA also harrass any other Rwandans who refuse to partake in silent complicity with RPF crimes.
Since 2019, Karasira had 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. I warned about this plan on multiple occasions in 2020 on various platforms including an article on the BlackStarNews. In fact, the ramping up of this character assassination campaign had already yielded results prior to his arrest: he was fired as a university lecturer in fall 2020 for statements he made on his social media accounts. 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.
The accusation against Karasira that he denies the 1994 genocide, a crime in Rwanda, 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. It is total nonsense. Idamange, another genocide survivor is facing similar charges. The unstated “crime” he committed is that he openly talks about his family members who were killed by the RPF as well as other atrocities committed by the RPF inside Rwanda and in the Congo. Similarly, Idamange is accused of denying genocide because she refuses to be silent while the regime uses the genocide she survived as a tool of repression on Rwandans and blackmail against the international community.
In a previous article, I wrote that “Aimable Karasira is in danger of losing his liberty due to the Rwandan government’s witch hunt of those who disagree with its practices.” The cases of real life hero of the film “Hotel Rwanda” Paul Rusesabagina who was abducted in DUBAi in August 2020, taken to Rwanda, tortured and made to face trumped up charges as well as Aimable Karasira, Kizito Mihigo, Idamange, 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.
The above mentioned cases among thousands of others must be taken seriously by Rwanda’s donors. Donor nations must demand immediate release of those among them who are still imprisoned or are in detention such as Aimable Karasira and Idamange. In particular, donors such as the Dutch government that focus on Rwanda’s judiciary must act immediately or cease funding of this system that perpetuates injustices.
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, torturing, and assassinating 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 Aimable Karasira and Idamange are steps individuals may take to help today by shining light on these atrocities.