Activist: I was detained for calling Kagame a young dictator

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Ugandan gay rights activist, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, has revealed that she was arrested and detained at Kigali international airport on Friday for calling the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, a dictator.

Rwanda police said Nabagesera was detained on suspicion of “drunkenness and gross misconduct, something other activists like Stella Nyanzi dismissed as “vague”.

“It’s been over 16hrs. She arrived yesterday 11th.05.17 how is she drunk to this hour,” tweeted Nyanzi who just returned from prison for calling President Yoweri Museveni “a pair of buttocks”.

Nabagesera, a renowned gay, lesbian and transgender rights promoter in Uganda, had gone to Rwanda to meet American filmmakers, according to her Twitter account.

A recipient of the Right Livelihood Award known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel prize, Kasha was held at Kicukiro police station before being moved to an undisclosed place after which she was deported.

“I have lived with a dictator for decades so I know first-hand how it’s like. All I was trying to do is enlighten Rwandese to avoid same mistakes.”

Arrested for calling Kagame a dictator

Kasha later revealed that she was held by immigration because a RwandaAir co-pilot said he heard her at Entebbe airport queue calling Kagame “a young dictator following in his big brother Museveni’s footsteps”.

“They then delayed the flight discussing whether to let me on or not. They decided to let me on and the co-pilot came and shared a seat next to me. Upon arrival they picked me up from my driver when we were loading baggage in the car ”sorry madam but your pictures didn’t come out well we need to take others please come back inside.”

Kasha obliged but when she entered the airport 8 vehicle, police besieged it and handcuffed her.

After three hours of detention at the airport, they told her to write a statement retracting her earlier statements made at Entebbe airport.

“Instead I made a statement giving 10 reasons why I called him a young dictator. They got pissed and drove me to CID headquarters where so many security agencies came in for meetings.”

“First charge was treason and they were convinced I am Rwandese. When that was disproved, they charged me for terrorism. I was interrogated in five different rooms by different security agencies. This is when I started hearing my voice from many rooms and phones. They were googling me.”

Kasha says at the time, she was bleeding from the tight grip of handcuffs.

At 2am, they then drove her to Kucikiro Police Station and was charged with hate speech and being disrespectful to a government leader.

At 6am, she was picked and taken back to CID for more interrogation until 2pm when she was taken to the airport for deportation.

“But that was my real return flight anyway. My phone was handed back to me at Entebbe airport. I only got my property back then after many searches. Then before boarding, I was charged for being a spy simply because I was only to spend less than 24hrs so they want to really know what I was doing.”

She was supposed to handled over to Uganda police but mid-way, flight one of the Luganda speaking officer told her he had changed his mind and she was free to go “but I should know am not welcome to Kigali ever again”.

“Still with swollen hands, no food in 27hrs n slept on plain floor. Stupid tramped up charges simply because I said Kagame was a young dictator.”

Denies being drunk

On arrival in Uganda, she wrote on her Facebook wall denying the charges of drunkenness labelled against her by Rwanda police.

“Do you take a drunk person to CID for more than 10hrs interrogation? Why did they react after seeing that loved ones r looking for me? Why refuse me a call but insist on keeping my phone on to the extent of re charging it? Why at some point you right on and or in a police detention book that no charge (clearly they didn’t have an idea on what to charge me with),” she queried.

Kasha said until the last minute, the police said she could return to Rwanda after retracting her statement, which she firmly rejected.

“I told them if only Kagame doesn’t use the same rhetoric of ”people love me” like his big brother [Museveni] and change the constitution would I change my stance. This made me sit in convoys and empty VIP buses alone as I was seen as a threat.”

She added: “I love you Kagame, please retire with dignity. Let Africa have some hope please.”

From “genocide liberator” to absolute dictator

In its May 2016 publication titled: “How Rwanda’s “Genocide Liberator” Paul Kagame Became an Absolute Dictator”, the Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), an independent research and media organisation based in Montreal in the province of Quebec, Canada, explains what went wrong.

For two decades after the 1994 genocide, journalist Anjan Sundaram watched leader Paul Kagame crush press freedom and political opposition.

“Rwanda has two worlds,” explains journalist and author Anjan Sundaram. “There is a world in which most diplomats and ex-pats live in, in which Rwanda looks really peaceful.” But there is also a darker side to the country, which Sundaram documented movingly in his bookBad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship.

He says since Kagame led the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) to capture the capital, Kigali, in 1994 and bring the genocide to an end, he has moved to crush press freedom, democratic institutions and political opposition.

As Kagame’s grip over the country has increased, the international community have maintained their support – and continued to funnel aid dollars to his regime.

The journalist says the consistent harassment of journalists has had a chilling effect in Rwanda, where there is no space for dissenting narrative at all, today.

“The Rwandan government is very sophisticated in its propaganda,” Sundaram explains. “I think of it as an example of how the dictatorship is evolving in the 21st century. With a few exceptions we’ve moved past the North Korea-style dictatorships of the Cold War era.”

He adds: “The modern dictatorship is shiny and new, you have multi-party elections,” he continues. “Even as the press is crushed, you have a dozen new newspapers opening up – all pro-government of course. So they present a facade that looks very much like democratic countries, which can be quite difficult to pierce.”

Kagame has maintained the charade of representative elections, but has tightened his grip with each vote. Sandaram sees the 2010 election as a pivotal moment.

“Destroying the local press is a very effective way of exporting propaganda because foreign correspondents are increasingly reliant on local journalists for their stories,” Sundaram explains.

”Another strategy that the government has used very effectively is to craft a narrative of a country that has risen from the ashes of genocide. It’s a very compelling story, one that many want to hear. But the reality is that many of the structures that were in place prior to the genocide and that were used to execute the genocide are still in place.”

The December 2015 referendum on constitutional reform passed with a yes result of over ninety per cent and the amendment could see Kagame in power until 2034.

His announcement to stand once again in the 2017 presidential election drew criticism from the US and the EU, who said Kagame should allow a new generation of leaders to emerge.