Rwanda opposition denies genocide ideology charge
By Hereward Holland
KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan opposition presidential candidate Bernard Ntaganda denied that he was peddling genocide ideology and ethnic "divisionism" at a senate committee inquiry late on Monday.
Ntaganda, head of recently formed Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri), said the accusations were baseless and may be politically motivated. The committee said the constitution obliged it to investigate all accusations against political parties.
Ntaganda was summoned to answer charges based on Rwanda's 2008 genocide ideology law, which officials say is necessary to prevent future violence.
Analysts say critics of the government, including journalists, civil society groups, political leaders, clergy and teachers, are frequently targeted by the law. One analyst said it was likely Ntaganda had been called in because he is the only registered presidential rival to President Paul Kagame.
"According to that law, it says you must provide proof, some speech, a written public letter, to write (something) in a newspaper," Ntaganda told Reuters. "They have no proof. I deny the charge."
The law is a highly sensitive issue in a country which has been completely rebuilt since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it is broad, ill-defined and frequently used to serve political or personal interest. HRW says authorities have used it to eliminate certain views they deem inappropriate.
"What they accuse me of is based on rumours. There are no facts, no evidence... this is a clear testimony that they have no proof about those accusations," Ntaganda said.
Parliamentary spokesman Augustin Habimana said the senate committee had received information from an undisclosed source that the party was ethnically divisive and Ntaganda was summoned to provide an explanation.
"It is not for the senate to provide evidence. They have some information... (and) the senate wants to know if it is true or not," Habimana told Reuters.
A 2008 U.S. State Department human rights report says Rwanda's campaign against ethnic "divisionism" discourages debate and criticism of the government.
Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said 1994's genocide directly resulted from unchecked genocide ideology and that despite the country's efforts, the insidious idea remained prevalent across the country.
Last week Kagame was re-elected chairman of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), signalling his intention to run for a second seven-year term in elections billed for August 2010.
PS-Imberakuri is the only registered party not aligned in a coalition with the RPF.
Analysts say the emergence of opposition parties -- such as PS-Imberakuri and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda -- may indicate a willingness to partially open up the political space.
The new parties are however unlikely to pose a serious challenge to Kagame's re-election.
Ntaganda said the opportunity to speak openly against the RPF on radio and TV was a small step towards political freedom, but accused the local security forces of continued harassment
and intimidation of his party members.
"There is a small change... I think this is a small step (but) as I've said, it is one step among one thousand," he said.
Kagame has been praised for establishing stability, implementing reforms and fostering robust economic growth in recent years. But critics say his leadership is authoritarian and that RPF has been intolerant of dissent.