President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. Picture: BLOOMBERG
President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Kigali — Rwandan President Paul Kagame is seeking re-election amid a climate of fear that is the result of two decades of crackdowns on political opposition, the media and human-rights defenders, says Amnesty International.

A report from the London-based group released on Friday noted that freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly had all been restricted since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power, in the wake of the East African nation’s 1994 genocide.

Opposition politicians and journalists are among those who’ve been jailed, attacked or forced into exile or silence, Amnesty said.

"Rwandans have faced huge, and often deadly, obstacles to participating in public life and voicing criticism of government policy," Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, said in a statement. "The climate in which the upcoming elections takes place is the culmination of years of repression."

Rwanda changed its constitution in 2015, enabling Kagame, who’s led since 2000 and taken credit for the tiny, landlocked nation’s economic success, to seek a third term at the August 4 election.

Annual GDP growth has averaged more than 7% since the turn of the millennium. When asked for comment, justice minister Johnston Busingye said by phone that he had not seen the report

Five opposition and independent candidates submitted nomination documents to authorities in June, with the final list of presidential candidates due to be announced Friday, Amnesty said.

Only Kagame and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza made a provisional list of qualified candidates published June 27, it said.

Amnesty urged the government to prevent harassment of opposition candidates and their supporters in the upcoming vote, and also start reform to open up political space before the 2024 elections to allow genuine debate.

Bloomberg

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