After spending one year in a Rwandan prison waiting for the country’s high court to decide on her case, Diane Rwigara feared the worst.
The 37-year-old told Sky News: “I will just have to accept it and go to prison because I guess that is the price that you pay for freedom.”
The former financial accountant faced a 22-year spell in jail for “inciting insurrection” and “forgery” after she tried to run in last year’s presidential election against Rwanda’s long-time president Paul Kagame.
Her mother, Adeline, also faced a 22-year term after sending messages that were critical of the government on Whatsapp to her sister and a couple of her friends.
But in a surprise judgment, the court found that both members of the Rwigara family were innocent.
“All charges… have been dropped. The court finds that the prosecution charges were baseless,” said one member of the three-judge panel.
While the decision will come as a great relief to both women, it will not erase what the pair have been through.
Ms Rwigara’s difficulties began when she declared her candidacy in Rwanda’s 2017 presidential contest.
Her 44-year old campaign manager, Thadeyo Muyenzi, went missing and has still not been found.
Then, nude photos – purportedly of Ms Rwigara – were published and shared on social media.
Finally, the country’s election board banned her from participating after they accused her of forging people’s signatures in support of her bid. Kagame won a third term in office with 98% of the vote.
Undeterred, the budding politician launched her own political party called the People Salvation Movement, but the police raided the family home – detained the accountant and her mother for the following 12 months.
Speaking to Sky News hours before the verdict was announced, Ms Rwigara said she was targeted by the state because she is prepared to challenge Kagame and his ruling clique.
She added: “This is what happens when you dare to have a different political opinion – a different view from those in the government.
“This is what happens if you don’t disappear like my campaign manager or get thrown into prison or lose your life. So yes, you do pay a price for speaking out in this country.”
Paul Kagame, the country’s towering, beanpole-like president, has been widely praised for his role in providing stability and economic growth after Rwanda’s catastrophic genocide in 1994.
However, human rights groups and others have tired of his increasingly autocratic style.
Criticism of the government is rarely tolerated and in 2015, he engineered a constitutional amendment which means he can hold the presidency until 2034.
Amnesty International welcomed the court’s verdict on Diane and Adeline Rwigara but called on the Rwandan government to do more to protect freedom of expression and political debate: “[They] should never have faced charges for expressing their views.
“We call on the Rwandan authorities to build on this judgment and work towards developing greater tolerance and acceptance of alternative and critical views.”
Ms Rwigara, who is described as “fearless” by those close to her, is not about to apologise for attempting to hold Rwanda’s leaders to account. Nor is she likely to stop trying.
“I speak the truth, that the system is built on a lie,” she said. “They simply do not want to be exposed.
“The lie is that everything is well in Rwanda and I just talk about [the reality] which is the high level of unemployment, the high level of poverty, the disappearances, the killings, all that, and they are not ready for that to be exposed.”
US demands Syria ceasefire as it announces sanctions against Turkey | World News
President Trump has told the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end the incursion into Syria, as the US announced sanctions against Turkey.
Vice President Mike Pence said Mr trump spoke directly to president Erdogan demanding an immediate ceasefire and talks with Kurdish forces.
“President Trump communicated to him very clearly that the United States of American wants Turkey to stop the invasion, implement an immediate ceasefire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence,” Mr Pence said.
He, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien, is being sent to Ankara as soon as possible to try to negotiate an end to the fighting.
Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria has raised international alarm – and came after Mr Trump’s surprise move last week to pull a group of US forces, who had fought alongside Kurdish militia against IS, from a section of the border.
The US withdrawal freed Turkey to begin operations against the Kurds in Syria – action which it considers a matter of survival, and insists it will not tolerate the virtual self-rule that the Kurds succeeded in carving out in northern Syria.
Ankara wants to create a corridor – a so-called “safe zone” – clearing out the Kurdish forces.
The latest conflict has sparked yet another humanitarian crisis in the region with tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting.
The US has strenuously denied that the US pull out amounted to a green light for the Turkish incursion.
A senior US official said on Monday: “This was not caused by any action of President Trump…Nothing we did was going to deter the Turks from what they wanted to do. President Erdoğan was going to act regardless.”
Faced with the Turkish onslaught, Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the US said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion.
Syrian government troops have already moved into towns and villages in northeastern Syria.
President Assad’s return to the region his troops abandoned in 2012 is a turning point in Syria’s eight-year civil war, giving yet another major boost to his government and its Russian backers and is like to endanger, if not altogether crush, the brief experiment in self-rule set up by Syria’s Kurds since the conflict began.
Bloodshed, betrayal and a huge battlefield: 24 hours in northeastern Syria | World News
I cannot remember a sequence of events, bloodshed and geopolitical machinations in a single day that involved so many countries and so many people. In a single day.
We were on the road again, had been for four days, but as each hour passed, our ability to move safely in Kurdish northeast Syria lessened.
We overtook cars, trucks, flatbeds, and pick-ups laden with belongings, but there were fewer and fewer. Almost anyone who could, had already left the border lands between Syria and Turkey.
On the side of a road, near a truck stop, we came across five lorries, they were full of families. They had grouped together and were living there.
They were so confused by the fighting and the ever-changing shape of this battle that they decided to be mobile so they could move in any direction at any time.
The families had left the battle for Aleppo six years ago to find safety. The war has caught them up. They are fleeing once again.
This day on the road and the subsequent 24 hours became one of the most remarkable of my entire career.
The fighting between the Turkish backed militia and the Kurds intensified along a huge battlefield – basically the border between Turkey and Syria.
Claims and counter claims of success and failure filled the airways as the battle raged on. In truth nobody knew what was going on. We constantly had to stop to assess our routes.
News emerged that in the chaos of fighting, hundreds of Islamic State families and fighters had escaped from a camp and prison.
We had been in the de facto capital of Kurdish Syria, Qamishli, when an Islamic State car bomb destroyed a restaurant this week; now we were told in frenzied messages by Kurdish intelligence that IS sleeper cells had been activated and that our hotel was a target.
It brought panic to the staff and the guests, many of whom, like us, were Western journalists.
Our local producers rushed upstairs and said that we needed to stay away from the hotel front windows and pack and get out as soon as possible.
We peered into the street and could see armed intelligence officers surrounding the building, closing down the road and inspecting all cars coming and going.
We packed and left for a safe house.
It was eerie outside. The streets were quiet. The Turkish invasion and the news of the IS breakout and the threat of suicide bombers on the loose had spooked and depressed everyone.
On this day the Turkish invasion had intensified, nearly a thousand IS families and fighters had escaped, the capital was under attack and then from nowhere news of another even more shocking atrocity – a Turkish strike on a civilian convoy heading to act as human shields in the border town of Ras al Ain.
Our local guys watched in horror on social media as the videos flashed around. The pictures were horrendous.
We have good contacts with aid agencies as well and soon they were sending us their own videos of the hospitals and clinics where the injured were being treated.
We wanted to file this story and all the others from the day so far, but were stuck in a courtyard waiting to be told we could move to yet another safe place.
We sat with our friends and talked. In those moments, as they spoke in Kurdish, smoked heavily and occasionally hugged each other, it dawned on me as it had with them that the Kurdish grip on the homeland they call Rojava was slipping away.
As night fell we moved to our new accommodation deep in a Kurdish only district of the city. They said it would be safe forever, until this bombshell: the Kurds had done a deal with the regime of Bashar al Assad and the Russians.
Abandoned by the USA, the UK and France, the Kurds had no choice. The Kurds have always done deals with some pretty dubious regimes to maintain their autonomy or even their existence for generations, but this latest move meant our safe area was soon to come under the control of Damascus once again.
“It is bad or very bad, those are the options,” our Kurdish cameraman said.
He sounds matter-of-fact. He had tears in his eyes.
As the night skies filled with tracer rounds and as the sounds of gunfire echoed around the Arabic parts of the city in celebration that the regime was returning, our friends sat with their heads in their hands and wept. We all did.
How quick the regime would start to take back control of the region we did not know.
Local officials said we were fine but I was dubious. Syria considers us illegal entrants to the country and would accuse us of consorting with terrorists. The sentence is 12 years in prison.
I have been wanted by the regime since 2012 and I’m on a blacklist. Given their previous form for murdering people, I was in no doubt Bashar’s people would kill me if they caught me.
We woke early after a few hours’ sleep. Everything seemed fine. Nothing much appeared to have changed. Rather than rush we had coffee and talked to our foreign desk about some live appearances on our morning show and where we could film.
Then messages came through.
The border would be taken back by the regime in four hours. We were three hours away.
We scrabbled downstairs with our kit – 20 plus pieces. We sped off towards the border with Iraq. Iraq a safe haven? You couldn’t make it up.
We made the final crossing from Rojava. We left our friends behind and waved as our bus moved away and past rows of people trying to leave as well. As foreigners we were given priority. There is no discussion. It’s the system.
As we crossed the pontoon bridge to safety I thought of the children I had seen within this 24 hours; displaced from home and camping in schools where they will be taught Arabic, not Kurdish from now on.
Rojava was a dream but it has gone.
For sure though, the children will learn one thing in Kurdish: the meaning of betrayal.
Charleston to Tokyo: Conde Nast Traveller’s top 20 cities to visit | Travel News
The port city of Charleston in America’s Deep South has topped a list of the best cities in the world.
Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s readers voted for their favourite cities to travel to in 2019 based on architecture, nightlife, accommodation and food.
Places in America and Japan featured the most in the list, with three each, while European cities also did well.
UK cities were notably absent, while African and South American cities also didn’t make the list.
Here are the top 20 cities to visit in the world:
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