Members of Australia’s Rwandan community fear relatives are being murdered in their former homeland, as the country’s regime moves to intimidate and silence international critics.
- The Rwandan Government is accused of seeking to silence dissenters in Australia via a network of spies
- Refugees are speaking out, claiming family members in Rwanda have been murdered and abducted
- The Australian Government is providing consular support to a man trapped in Rwanda since last year
The ABC has also learned a Melbourne father has been trapped in Rwanda for more than a year after having his Australian passport confiscated by authorities during a visit to farewell his dying mother.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed it was providing consular assistance to the Australian citizen who returned to Rwanda in early 2019, and the ABC has chosen not to name him over fears for his safety.
“He can’t fly back to Australia and he has been regularly monitored,” a friend familiar with the man’s situation said.
Last year, another Rwandan refugee anonymously described to the ABC how the East African nation’s visiting High Commissioner allegedly threatened to kill him for refusing to become a foreign agent of influence.
Now, Noel Zihabamwe is choosing to speak publicly because he believes his two brothers in Rwanda have been murdered in retaliation for his decision to report the incident to NSW Police.
The Sydney-based human rights advocate said his siblings Jean Nsengimana and Antonine Zihabamwe were abducted from a bus by Rwandan police in September last year and have not been heard from since.
“They were arrested because they are my brothers, because they (Rwanda’s Government) want me to work for them,” said Mr Zihabamwe, who came to Australia as a refugee in 2006.
“I doubt that they’re still alive because it’s now 13 months, if they’re arrested and they’ve committed any crime I don’t think it would take that long to take them to justice.”
Mr Zihabamwe, who co-authored the book One Thousand Hills about surviving the Rwandan genocide, wants the Australian Government and public to know more about the threats faced by members of the African diaspora community.
“Their family members, who live back in Rwanda, they will face some consequences that the ones that my brothers have faced.”
In a statement, DFAT said the Australian Government took the alleged threats made towards an Australian citizen seriously.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of these concerns, and has raised them with the Rwandan Government,” a spokesman said.
“The department has also reaffirmed with the Rwandan Government the importance of freedom of expression and the right of all Australians to exercise this right free from intimidation.”
Last week the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) annual report warned foreign powers were “monitoring, harassing and intimidating of Australia’s culturally diverse communities”.
“We have uncovered many cases — involving multiple countries — where Australian community members and their families have been threatened for expressing views at odds with the foreign government’s policies or values.
“It is unacceptable that people in Australia are being intimidated simply for advocating democratic reforms or criticising human rights abuses,” ASIO’s Director General Mike Burgess said.
ABC attempts to contact Rwandan Government officials went unanswered.
Rwanda’s overseas network of agents face scrutiny
Images and documents seen by the ABC suggest the Rwandan regime, headed by controversial President Paul Kagame, has established a network of agents across Australia to monitor its main refugee populations in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
A video of Rwanda’s ruling political party congress in 2018 appears to show a prominent member from Sydney’s diaspora community who arrived in Australia in 2009.
Mr Zihabamwe said the man fled from Rwanda as a student claiming persecution, but instead now works closely with Mr Kagame’s regime to monitor other community members in New South Wales.
Photographs seen by the ABC also reveal how Rwandan parents in Perth, who support the Kagame regime, are sending their children to a youth military training camp in the African nation where they dress in army uniforms.
In the United Kingdom, a video recently leaked from inside the Rwandan High Commission in London appears to show members of the Rwandan community being pressured to swear allegiance to their homeland.
Samuel Makinda, a Professor of International Relations and Security Studies at Murdoch University believes Rwandans are being targeted all over the world.
“People from Rwanda, not just in Australia but even in other countries, have been followed by their Government, some of them have been abducted — some have been murdered.
“The Rwandan Government is composed of people who came into power as fighters,” Professor Makinda explained.
Professor Makinda said President Paul Kagame feels his nation was abandoned during the time of the Rwandan genocide when the Tutsis were massacred.
“Anybody who opposes him is put in the same bracket as people who were killing the Tutsis in the mid-1990s, which is wrong of course.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .