A Rwandan court on Thursday sentenced a yachtswoman critical of President Paul Kagame's rule to 15 years in prison for "inciting violence.
Yvonne Idamange, 42 and mother of four, was not present in court in Kigali when the verdict was read, finding her guilty on six counts, including inciting violence and insurrection, denigration of genocide memorials, spreading rumors and assault.
She was accused of having, on her YouTube channel "Idamange", accused President Kagame and his government of having set up a dictatorship, of instrumentalizing the 1994 genocide without sufficiently helping the survivors, or of having turned the genocide memorials into tourist attractions.
Ms. Idamange, whose Youtube channel has 18,900 subscribers and whose videos are viewed an average of 100,000 times, presents herself as a survivor of the genocide which, according to the United Nations, killed more than 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, mainly among the Tutsi minority.
She was also accused of having hit and injured a police officer during her arrest.
In addition to a 15-year sentence, she was fined the equivalent of $2,000. The prosecution had asked for 30 years in prison and a fine of $6,000.
Idamange had been boycotting the hearings since the court - which she accused of bias - rejected her request to have her trial broadcast online.
Rwanda, ruled with an iron fist by Paul Kagame since the end of the 1994 genocide, is regularly criticized for its attacks on freedom of expression and its repression of the opposition.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern in March about the increasing arrests or prosecutions of those who criticize the Rwandan authorities on the Internet.
According to the NGO, at least eight people commenting online on public affairs - including the impact of strict anti-Covid measures on the poor - were threatened, arrested or prosecuted in 2020.
She recalled threats made in 2019 by Kagame against those criticizing him online: "Those you hear talking on the internet, they are either in America, South Africa or France. And they think they are safe. They are far away, but they are close to the fire. The day they get closer, the fire will burn them.