Political persecution is not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, it has been going on for the past few thousand years, from the time of the Romans, where it was invariably linked to religious persecution, to twenty-first century Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe frequently jails and even brutalizes people who are opposed to his style of governance. Yes, political persecution is an age-old crime, and one which can have lasting effects for decades. A pertinent example of this would be Rwanda, in which years of political and racial persecution have resulted in an unstable, volatile environment within the country.

The highlands of Rwanda and Burundi, east of Lake Kivu, are the last part of Africa to be reached by Europeans in the colonial expansion of the late 19th century. Rwanda experienced both a political and a human rights crisis during the months which followed a violent attack on northern Rwanda in October 1990 by the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR), Rwandese Patriotic Front, which is composed mainly of Uganda-based Rwandese exiles. The detention of more than 8,000 people, accompanied by the torture and killing of many, affected the country deeply. Although virtually all the 8,000 detainees arrested in connection with the rebellion had been released by mid-February 1992, at least 24 captured insurgents are still in captivity. There were further arrests in 1991 and early 1992 of people who appeared to be prisoners of conscience. About a dozen of them were journalists whose published or unpublished articles had displeased the authorities. Amnesty International believes that many of the detainees were prisoners of conscience, held on account of their ethnic or national origins, political views or family connections with government opponents rather than because there was any evidence of their participation in the rebellion or support for armed government opponents.
Most of those arrested over the rebellion were members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Many seem to have been arrested because of their ethnic origin: the Rwandese authorities claim that the rebellion's objective was to re-establish the pre-1959 social order, with a Tutsi minority dominating the Hutu majority. Others arrested included Hutu government critics and nearly 300 Ugandan nationals, who appeared to have been apprehended simply because the rebels had launched their attack from Uganda and had strong links with Uganda, rather than because of any evidence that, as individuals, they had direct links with the insurgents.

In Rwanda today, political persecution has reached new heights, corruption is rampant, and the government is inept and unaccountable. A climate of paranoia has enveloped the country to an extent neighbours are encouraged to spy on each other, just like members of families are encouraged to do the same. The media is today completely muzzled and freedom of expression, a fundamental human right is virtually non-existent. Presidential elections are scheduled to be held this year, but opposition parties have been prevented or obstructed from any meaningful participation.

No comments: