A Rwandan opposition politician who narrowly survived an assassination attempt has condemned the UK’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Kigali.
Frank Ntwali, the chair of the exiled Rwanda National Congress (RNC) movement, said the country was unsafe and that Rishi Sunak’s persistence with the policy was “quite bizarre”.
His criticisms come after the prime minister urged the House of Lords to pass the Rwanda deportation bill so flights can take off for the central African state. The policy is seen as crucial to a Conservative fightback as the party trails in the polls to Labour.
In 2012 Ntwali was stabbed a number of times near Johannesburg’s OR Tambo international airport. He was flagged down by men appearing to drive a police car. After the attack, they left without taking his wallet.
At the time, Ntwali was due to testify at a South African court in the trial of several men accused of trying to murder his brother-in-law Kayumba Nyamwasa, a rival of Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame. Four men were later convicted for the attempt on Nyamwasa’s life.
Ntwali and Nyamwasa are two of several Rwandan dissidents who human rights activists say have been attacked in South Africa. The RNC South Africa coordinator Seif Bamporiki was shot dead in Cape Town in 2021. The former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was found dead in a Johannesburg hotel room on New Year’s Day in 2014.
“To see the government of the UK trying to go against its own institutions and send people who seek protection to a country that is unsafe – it really troubles my mind,” Ntwali said. “It should be stopped.”
Now a practising advocate in South Africa, Ntwali left his home country as a government-sponsored law student more than two decades ago. But when the country was developing its post-civil war constitution in the early 2000s, he publicly criticised the power of the partly appointed upper house over the elected chamber of deputies.
He was labelled an “enemy of the state” by Kagame’s government, he said, and forced to leave the country.
Ntwali said that if the deportation plan goes ahead, the UK should be held responsible for the fates of any asylum seekers who are deported to Rwanda, and would “absolutely” have blood on its hands in the event of any killings.
“The British government knows what Rwanda is but it goes ahead to surrender these people to go to a country that is going to allow rendition,” he said. “[If there are] any consequences the British government [will have] played a direct role in the death, or incarceration, or disappearance of all these people that are going to Rwanda.”
The RNC was founded by former members of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, which took power in 1994 after Rwanda was rocked by genocide and civil war. It has been described as a terrorist group by Kagame.
Ntwali’s stabbing in 2012 was included in a Human Rights Watch report on Rwandan political dissidents who have faced attacks abroad. The campaigning organisation said of the cases it listed: “Human Rights Watch has documented these cases or received reliable information indicating that the victims are likely to have been targeted because of their criticisms of the Rwandan government, the RPF or President Paul Kagame.”
Rwandan dissidents living in the UK have received police warnings about assassination attempts from the African country’s agents, the Guardian has previously disclosed.
Jonathan Musonera, another political opponent of Kagame, lives in Greater London with his family under strict security measures after receiving a Metropolitan police warning of an assassination attempt. He said Sunak’s claim that Rwanda is safe was “unbelievable”.
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an opposition politician who spent eight years in a Rwandan jail after what human rights groups called a flawed trial, wrote this week that those who express opinions contrary to the Rwandan government suffer reprisals.
“This was the case for 12 Congolese refugees who were shot by Rwandan police in 2018 as they demonstrated against a cut in food rations. Sixty-five of the demonstrators were arrested and charged with spreading false information or harmful propaganda with the intent of creating a hostile international opinion of the Rwandan government.
“Dissenting voices, activists, independent journalists and YouTubers who do not toe the government line have also been mysteriously killed, disappeared or arrested. I know this because I experienced it first-hand,” she wrote on the website Progressive Britain.
The Rwandan government has been approached for comment.