(Nairobi) – Presidential elections in Rwanda on August 4, 2017, took place in a context of very limited free speech or open political space, Human Rights Watch said today, as President Paul Kagame is sworn in for a seven-year term. Human Rights Watch released a chronology of violations of the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Rwanda between the country’s December 2015 referendum – allowing the president to run for a third term – and the election, which Kagame won with a reported 98.79 percent of the vote.
“Kagame’s landslide win came as no surprise in a context in which Rwandans who have dared raise their voices or challenge the status quo have been arrested, forcibly disappeared, or killed, independent media have been muzzled, and intimidation has silenced groups working on civil rights or free speech,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet the Rwandan authorities took no chances with the presidential vote, as repression continued in recent months despite the weak prospects for any opposition candidate.”
In the days following the vote, Human Rights Watch spoke with local activists and private citizens who spoke of intimidation and irregularities in both the lead-up to the election and during the voting. In Rutsiro district, in Western Province, donations to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) were mandatory. “Nobody could escape this order,” said one voter. “It was organized through the National Electoral Commission.”
Another voter, also from Rutsiro, said that he was forced to vote in the presence of a National Electoral Commission official. “After verifying my name on the voting list, I was told to vote then and there in front of him,” the voter said. “It was easy to see who I was voting for on the ballot, so it was impossible for me to vote for anyone besides Kagame.”
A person monitoring the vote in Nyamagabe District, in the south, said he saw voting officials sign ballots for at least 200 people who did not show up to vote. All the votes went to the RPF.