A prominent Rwandan opposition leader, Bernard Ntaganda, who was accused of stoking ethnic tensions, was sentenced on Friday night to four years in jail, Rwandan authorities said. “There is no place for hate speech and divisionism in Rwanda,” the chief prosecutor, Martin Ngoga, said in a statement. “Our laws are there to protect Rwandans from those who want to reverse the economic and social progress as well as the reconciliation that has been made.”

Mr. Ntaganda pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is the second person who sought to run in last year's elections to end up in jail. The other was Victoire Ingabire. Both are Hutu; President Paul Kagame is Tutsi. Mr. Kagame handily won the August election, in which he ran against three marginal, regime-friendly candidates, garnering 93 per cent of the vote.

The election was the second since the end of Rwandan genocide in 1994, when radical Hutu slaughtered nearly 1 million ethnic-minority Tutsi, and gave Mr. Kagame a second seven-year term.

In a statement, Amnesty International criticised the court's ruling against Mr. Ntaganda. “Ntaganda's prosecution for threatening state security and ‘divisionism' was based solely on his speeches criticising government policies,” the statement said. It added: “Today's ruling once again criminalises peaceful dissent.”

Human rights advocates argue that the government has misused powerful laws meant to stop a repeat of the killing, sometimes using them to sideline political opponents.

Last month, two journalists were imprisoned on accusations that they promoted ethnic divisions, denied the genocide and insulted the President. One of them was sentenced to 17 years, the other to seven years.

According to Mr. Ntaganda's indictment, he was accused by the courts of criticising an economic programme and the special genocide courts, saying some judges were unfairly ruling against people based simply on their ethnic backgrounds. Mr. Ntaganda was charged with endangering state security, as well as harbouring ethnic divisionism.

Mr. Ntaganda, who was the president of a political party, PS-Imberakuri, was arrested at dawn on June 24, the first day presidential candidates could officially register. He never had the chance.

For the last half-year, Mr. Ntaganda has waited in prison and was taken to a hospital after a hunger strike in October. — New York Times News Service

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