Christmas in jail

Zaterdag, Kerstmis

Leader of the opposition in Rwanda, Victoire Ingabire, has to spend her christmas in a prisoncel in jail 1930, in Kigali. The 'cel' consists of a small space, a former office, with all the windows painted black. She sits in her cel with two female collegue-prisoners, who are in reality her spies: they hear every word she says and the follow all her movements

Ingabire is not allowed to leave her cel. She is not allowed to walk outdoors, so she never sees the sun, or gets any fresh air. Therefore she's got respiritory problems. She's allowed once a day to get her food from Alice Muhirwa, treasurer of her party UDF Inkingi, it gives her a ten meters indoor-walk The only time she sees any sun is when she has to appear in the courthouse. According to Muhirwa and Sylvain Sibomana, secretary of UDF, her physical condion is allright under the circumstances. Ingabire has to suffer the weekly humiliation of her had beeing shaved. She takes that bravely, says Muhirwa.

Ingabire has eight! guards: three policemen in uniform with weapons, three men of the Criminal Investigation department, a female guard and a guard who commands all her other guards. But Ingabire is not intimidated, according to Muhirwa and Sibomana and she asks everybody to keep cool and to stay strong.

Ingabire is not allowed to write anything, she doesn't have a computer, she's not allowed to have any contact with the other prisoners, or to give any interviews. In fact she's living in total isolation. She's got permission however to see every friday some of her partymembers. They come to see her from all over the country.

In the meantime all the activities of UDF-Inkingi are influenced by Ingabires detention. The regime therefore has reached it's goal. The situation can get worse if Muhirwa and Sibomana are sentenced to jail coming 5th of january. They have to stand trial for attending an illegal demonstration. "This is a political trial, with falsified charges and evidence", Muhirwa says. 

Not whitstanding all these problems UDF doesn't give up hope. Sibomana: "Nobody will critsize the governemen openly, but we have a lot of members and supporters throughout the country on all levels. That will show on our constitutive assembly. We are ready for it, but until now we were denied the right to hold this assembly."

According to Muhirwa Ingabire will not return to Holland as a refugee: "But of course she hopes -in time- to be able to visit her husband, children and family from time to time. She misses them off course."

Both partymembers find the silence of the international community remakable. "They seem to close their eyes to the situation in Rwanda. Instead the should make a powerfull statement concerning human rights and then political space." Ingabire is not the only one in jail during Christmas. For example Bernard Ntaganda sits in the same jail since last summer. "The last few months we've seen a new wave of arrests of politicians, journalists and former members of the governmentparty RPF. They all have one thing in common: they critisize the government", according to Sibomana.

Although the near future seems obscure, they both remain steadfast. Muhirwa: "We're harrassed all the time by the national police and the intelligence service. The searching of our house a few days ago, is an example of their activities. All over the country members and supporters are put under pressure. But we will not bow."

It's Muhirwa who voices the Christmas message of Ingabire: "She herself can't speak out, but she told me to wish her husband and children, her familiy and friends, partymembers and supporters in Rwanda and abroad all the luck,  peace and freedom."