Another Kagame critic barred from running in election

Another Kagame critic barred from running in election
Court has barred Bernard Ntaganda from July presidential vote

KIGALI | A prominent opposition politician and critic of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has been barred by the court from vying in the July presidential elections.

Mr Bernard Ntaganda, 55, had asked the court to lift his convictions so he could qualify to run in the election.

Mr Ntaganda is the founder and party leader of the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri). He established the party in 2008, and in June 2010 he was arrested. In February 2011, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Rwandan law forbids individuals who have been convicted for more than six months from holding public office.

Mr Ntaganda is the second Opposition figure in the central African country to be barred from running against Kagame in the Just 15 election.

In March, Victoire Ingabire was also locked out after the High Court in Kigali declined her appeal for a complete rehabilitation that would have allowed her regain her civic rights.

Ms Ingabire, who is under virtual house arrest and cannot leave Rwanda without Attorney-General's approval, has taken the Kigali government to the East African Court of Justice seeking for the regional court to order her freedom.

In the Kigali on Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled against Ntaganda, based on what it said was his failure to pay court fees of almost Rwf106,000 related to the previous case against him.

"The High Court finds that Bernard Ntaganda did not abide by the laws that require individuals to request their conviction to be removed. This court rejects the appeal," the ruling said.

Ntaganda, a lawyer and founder of the PS-Imberakuri party, said he had proof he had paid the fees but that the court decision "was not a surprising outcome".

"The ruling RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) cannot allow the courts to be independent," he told AFP.

Ntaganda had also planned to stand against Kagame in 2010, but was arrested before the vote - just like Ms Ingabire who was only just returning home from exile in the Netherlands.

He was freed in 2014 after serving time on charges, including organising unauthorised demonstrations and threatening state security.

Last week, Diane Rwigara announced intensions to challenge Mr Kagame this year after being barred from the 2017 race over accusations she submitted signatures of dead persons in her nomination form.

Mr Kagame, 66, came to power when he stopped the 1994 genocide on July 4, 1994. He first tiptoed in the shadows as a vice president defence minister, formally becoming president of a transitional government in 2000.

Mr Kagame then organised Rwanda's firt ever presidential elections on August 25, 2003. He was elected to a seven-year term with 95 percent of the vote.

Since then he won elections in 2010 and 2017, each time with more than 90 percent of the vote - the last with 98.7 percent.

Kagame presided over controversial constitutional changes in 2015 that reduced a presidential mandate - from the 2024 vote onwards - to five years from seven but also allowed him to run for two more terms and potentially stay in power until 2034.

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