The deputy leader of Rwanda's Green Party was found murdered yesterday amid a crackdown against opposition organisations before next month's presidential elections.
Andre Kagwa Rwisereka's body was found in the early hours on a riverbank, a couple of miles from his abandoned pick-up truck. His head was nearly severed and a large knife was found nearby. The murder followed complaints by senior party officials of death threats, police harassment and intimidation.
Police said Mr Rwisereka, a politician and businessman, was carrying a large sum of money before he was attacked and said that they were investigating a suspected robbery case. However his party said they did not believe he was carrying any money when he died and that the motive behind the killing was unclear.
The Independent reported in March that party leader Frank Habineza had received a series of death threats, police had broken up party meetings and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda had been barred from registering or putting up candidates for the election. The threats against Mr Habineza culminated in one newspaper front page headlined: "Frank Habineza to be killed in 60 days." The report cited anonymous sources claiming security agents would target the politician.
The party first reported Mr Rwisereka missing early on Tuesday and his vehicle was found in wetlands near the Mukula river close to the southern city of Butare. His body was found early yesterday.
"His head was almost completely removed from his body. His brother Antoine Haguma confirms seeing the dead body," Mr Habineza said in a statement.
"I'm very scared because ... I've received death threats [saying] I was supposed to be killed before the election," Mr Habineza, a former politician for President Paul Kagame's ruling party, told Reuters. "My vice president is now dead, I'm very scared."
A day after Mr Habineza was threatened in February, a leading member of another opposition group was beaten by a mob in front of a government office. Rights groups said other parties have been targeted and the Kagame government has sought to stamp out opposition and critical media before the vote.
Human Rights Watch said a number of opposition party activists, including two rival party leaders, had been arrested in the past weeks. One leader remains in custody. "The opposition parties have been having a really hard time," said Carina Tertsakian, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. "There's been a real crackdown in the last few months and it's been getting worse in the last few weeks. None of the three opposition parties have been able to put forward candidates."
The killings included the shooting of a journalist in the capital Kigali. His colleague was the victim of an attempted killing in neighbouring Uganda.
The newspaper, which had been banned, published an article online on the day that the journalist was killed which alleged that the government was behind the attempted murder of a former Rwandan general.
General Kayumba Nyamwasa, once a close ally of President Paul Kagame, was an increasingly outspoken critic but fled to South Africa and exile after falling out with the regime. The newspaper had alleged that the journalist was investigating the murder attempt and had reported being under increased surveillance before his death.
The government has denied a role in the attacks and said it has accepted opposing views since the 1994 genocide.