JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The government of President Paul Kagame has denied a work visa to a foreign researcher with Human Rights Watch, a sign of a broader Rwanda crackdown against political opponents and critics, human rights activists say.
On Friday, Rwanda informed Carina Tertsakian – a British researcher with Human Rights Watch – that she would not be given a work permit, alleging that there were “anomalies” among the signatures on her permit application.
Human Rights Watch asked for a meeting with immigration officials in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, but that meeting was denied and Ms. Tertsakian was expelled on Friday.
Human Rights Watch has been working in Rwanda since before the 1994 genocide of some 800,000 Rwandans – most of them of the ethnic Tutsi minority – by armed Hutu extremist groups.
Human Rights Watch has documented human rights abuses both by the Hutu genocidaires and by the current government of Mr. Kagame, and as national elections in Rwanda are approaching in August, the Rwandan government has launched a crackdown of political opponents as well as human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
“Human Rights Watch is being caught up in this strategy of increasing repression and a crackdown against anyone seen to be opponents or not agreeing with the government,” says Georgette Gagnon, the Africa director for Human Rights Watch, speaking by phone in New York after returning from Rwanda. “The Rwandan government is doing everything it can to silence critical voices and independent reporting before the elections.”
The expulsion of Tertsakian follows the arrest of Kagame’s main political opponent for president, Victoire Ingabire, on charges of promoting a “genocide ideology” of ethnic division, revisionism, and support of a terrorist organization.
Ingabire, who denies the charges, has since been released on bail.
The Rwandan government has also filed charges of an attempted coup d’etat by a senior Rwandan ambassador to India, who has since fled to exile in South Africa. And last week, Rwanda arrested top generals in the Rwandan Army on charges of corruption.
Supporters of Kagame say the various arrests must be taken at face value, since there are organizations such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that still seek to overthrow Kagame’s government by force.
Corruption is a special peeve for Mr. Kagame, who hopes to turn Rwanda into a kind of Singapore of Africa; and thus the corruption charges against the generals and other top officials should be seen as a positive sign.
Yet critics, or at least those independent of Kagame, counter that there is increasing disquiet about the repressive tactics of Mr. Kagame, who has ruled Rwanda for some 16 years.
“Kagame is tightening up his control before the elections,” says Guillaume Lacaille, writing by email from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “But this comes at the price of having serious tensions,” even within Kagame’s own Tutsi community.