Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was unexpectedly freed from jail on Saturday after President Paul Kagame granted her early release, alongside more than 2,000 other prisoners.
“I thank the president who gave me this liberation,” Ingabire said as she left Mageragere Prison in the capital Kigali.
“This is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda, I hope so,” she said calling on Kagame “to release other political prisoners”.
The surprise release of 2,140 prisoners, including Ingabire and musician Kizito Mihigo, followed a cabinet meeting on Friday at which a presidential order of “mercy” was approved.
“The Cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame today approved the early release of 2,140 convicts found eligible under relevant provisions of law,” a justice minister statement read.
“Among them are Mr Kizito Mihigo and Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the remainder of whose sentences were commuted by Presidential prerogative following their most recent applications for clemency in June this year.”
Ingabire returned from exile in The Netherlands intending to run for president in 2010 as leader of the FDU-Inkingi party.
However, she was arrested, charged with terrorism and treason and sentenced to 10 years in jail during a widely criticised trial.
Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was accused of “genocide ideology” and “divisionism” after publicly questioning the government narrative of the 1994 genocide of mostly Tutsi people that killed around 800,000 people.
On appeal, Rwanda’s Supreme Court extended her sentence to 15 years.