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Woman faced 22 years in jail for criticising her government

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After spending one year in a Rwandan prison waiting for the country’s high court to decide on her case, Diane Rwigara feared the worst.

The 37-year-old told Sky News: “I will just have to accept it and go to prison because I guess that is the price that you pay for freedom.”

The former financial accountant faced a 22-year spell in jail for “inciting insurrection” and “forgery” after she tried to run in last year’s presidential election against Rwanda’s long-time president Paul Kagame.

Her mother, Adeline, also faced a 22-year term after sending messages that were critical of the government on Whatsapp to her sister and a couple of her friends.

But in a surprise judgment, the court found that both members of the Rwigara family were innocent.

“All charges… have been dropped. The court finds that the prosecution charges were baseless,” said one member of the three-judge panel.

The activist ran for president in 2017
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The activist ran for president in 2017

While the decision will come as a great relief to both women, it will not erase what the pair have been through.

Ms Rwigara’s difficulties began when she declared her candidacy in Rwanda’s 2017 presidential contest.

Her 44-year old campaign manager, Thadeyo Muyenzi, went missing and has still not been found.

Then, nude photos – purportedly of Ms Rwigara – were published and shared on social media.

Finally, the country’s election board banned her from participating after they accused her of forging people’s signatures in support of her bid. Kagame won a third term in office with 98% of the vote.

Paul Kagame is credited with creating stability in Rwanda - but has grown increasingly authoritarian
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Paul Kagame is credited with creating stability in Rwanda – but has grown increasingly authoritarian

Undeterred, the budding politician launched her own political party called the People Salvation Movement, but the police raided the family home – detained the accountant and her mother for the following 12 months.

Speaking to Sky News hours before the verdict was announced, Ms Rwigara said she was targeted by the state because she is prepared to challenge Kagame and his ruling clique.

She added: “This is what happens when you dare to have a different political opinion – a different view from those in the government.

“This is what happens if you don’t disappear like my campaign manager or get thrown into prison or lose your life. So yes, you do pay a price for speaking out in this country.”

Diane Rwigara was found innocent today
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Diane Rwigara was found innocent by a Rwandan court

Paul Kagame, the country’s towering, beanpole-like president, has been widely praised for his role in providing stability and economic growth after Rwanda’s catastrophic genocide in 1994.

However, human rights groups and others have tired of his increasingly autocratic style.

Criticism of the government is rarely tolerated and in 2015, he engineered a constitutional amendment which means he can hold the presidency until 2034.

Amnesty International welcomed the court’s verdict on Diane and Adeline Rwigara but called on the Rwandan government to do more to protect freedom of expression and political debate: “[They] should never have faced charges for expressing their views.

“We call on the Rwandan authorities to build on this judgment and work towards developing greater tolerance and acceptance of alternative and critical views.”

Ms Rwigara, who is described as “fearless” by those close to her, is not about to apologise for attempting to hold Rwanda’s leaders to account. Nor is she likely to stop trying.

“I speak the truth, that the system is built on a lie,” she said. “They simply do not want to be exposed.

“The lie is that everything is well in Rwanda and I just talk about [the reality] which is the high level of unemployment, the high level of poverty, the disappearances, the killings, all that, and they are not ready for that to be exposed.”

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Russia used social media to target 2014 European Parliament election, evidence suggests | World News

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Evidence of Kremlin efforts to use social media to target the 2014 European Parliament elections have been uncovered by researchers at Cardiff University.

They tracked the activities of Twitter accounts identified by the United States as being linked to the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).

This is the Russian organisation accused of running fake Twitter and Facebook accounts that targeted the 2016 US presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

Cardiff University found that one of the IRA accounts “appears to have been engaging in reconnaissance activities of European Parliamentary election processes in Greece in 2014”.

It discovered messages sent by whoever was operating the account that included photographs from inside polling stations of ballot boxes and pictures of ballot papers.

The team also noted that by 2016 these accounts were posting messages in a number of European languages, including French, German, Italian and Estonian.

“Collectively, these IRA Twitter accounts were displaying high levels of interest in the American elections, but there were also significant levels of interest in a series of elections and democratic events across Europe in 2016,” Cardiff University said in a report.

It added: “Based upon the maxim that the best guide to future behaviour is past conduct, the evidence presented suggests a strong potential for similar kinds of activities to be directed towards the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.”

Professor Martin Innes, director of the Crime and Security Research Institute at the university, said the research presented in two reports “clearly evidence a sustained and wide-ranging interest in European politics from social media accounts covertly run on behalf of the Kremlin”.

“By examining in forensic detail some of the tactics and techniques featuring in their historic information-influence operations, this research affords urgent insights about the future threats to the integrity of the democratic process as we approach the 2019 European elections.”

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Pentagon: US could send 10,000 more troops to Middle East to counter ‘Iran threat’ | US News

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The Pentagon is preparing to send as many as 10,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran continue to rise, according to reports.

The move is not in response to any new threat but is aimed at strengthening security in the region, according to officials quoted by The Associated Press.

A final decision has not been made on the deployment, which could include additional weapons and ships.

Any increase in US troop numbers would contrast sharply with US President Donald Trump’s previous stated aim of reducing America’s military presence overseas.

Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “As a matter of long-standing policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential or alleged future operations or plans.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed-door briefing on Iran in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, DC, on May 21, 2019
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the situation is being evaluated daily

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation was being evaluated “every day”, telling Fox And Friends: “We’re evaluating the risks, making sure that we have it right.”

Meanwhile, the German foreign ministry’s political director Jens Ploetner headed for Tehran on Thursday for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in an effort to stop the nuclear deal from falling apart.

The deal, signed under the Obama administration in 2015, had offered economic incentives in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear production.

But Mr Trump pulled the US out of the deal last year and has reimposed sanctions, hurting Iran’s struggling economy.

An F/A18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed to U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in order to defend American forces and interests in the region. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets include staffs, ships and aircraft(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow/Released)
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Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East

Iran – which has obeyed the deal’s conditions according to a February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency – gave the remaining signatories Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia two months to develop a plan to shield it from the effect of sanctions.

The German foreign ministry said in an email: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation surrounding the Vienna nuclear agreement, is extremely serious.

“There is a real risk of escalation – including due to misunderstandings or an incident. In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

German deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner addresses a news conference in Berlin October 20, 2006
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Jens Ploetner is trying to save the Iran nuclear deal

On Monday, Iran said it had increased its production capacity of low-enriched uranium but that it would not be enriched beyond the 3.67% limit in the nuclear deal. This would mean it can be used for power but not for an atomic weapon.

Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and sent four B52 bombers to the region.

Non-essential US personnel have been told to leave Iran’s neighbour Iraq, due to what the Trump administration described as threats from Iranian-backed militias.

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Geoffrey Rush: Oscar-winning actor awarded record £1.5m damages in defamation case | World News

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Geoffrey Rush is set to receive the largest ever damages payout to a single person in Australia’s history following a defamation case against a newspaper publisher and journalist. 

The judge awarded Rush 2.9m Australian dollars (£1.5m) on Thursday, up from the original amount of 484,000 Australian dollars (£263,000), after taking the actor’s loss of earnings into consideration.

In the case, Oscar-winning Rush successfully sued Australia’s Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran over its reporting in 2017 of accusations that he sexually abused actress Eryn Jean Norvill.

The pair appeared together in a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 2015 and 2016, where Norvill alleged the four-time Academy Award nominee had touched her inappropriately on several occasions, and had made lewd comments.

Rush has denied the accusations against him.

Norvill alleges that the Oscar-winning actor touched her inappropriately during a production of King Lear
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Norvill alleges the Oscar-winning actor touched her inappropriately during a King Lear production

Judge Michael Wigney found two reports and a poster by the company, which publishes the Daily Telegraph, to be defamatory toward the Shine actor.

He called the reporting, in an article headlined “King Leer”, a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of… the very worst kind”, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Both Nationwide News and Mr Moran intend to appeal the court’s decision.

In early 2018, Rush’s legal team said it would be happy to settle the case with an apology and a £27,000 payout from Nationwide News, but the outlet did not respond.

Stone's evidence was not heard in the case as the judge said her allegations could cause Rush prejudice
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Evidence from Yael Stone was not heard in the case

The media publisher later lost a key element in the almost two-week trial after Judge Wigney refused to allow Netflix actress Yael Stone to give evidence of her own personal experiences with Rush.

Stone alleges that the Australian actor behaved inappropriately toward her when they appeared together in a stage production of The Diary of a Madman in 2010. Rush denies the allegation.

However, Judge Wigney said Stone’s evidence created new allegations that would cause Rush “manifest and palpable” prejudice.

Rush said at the time that Stone’s allegations were “incorrect” and had in some cases “been taken completely out of context”.

He added: “I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress.

“This, most certainly, has never been my intention.”

A record-breaking damages payout for Australia was awarded to actress Rebel Wilson in a defamation case against Bauer Media last year.

She was originally awarded £2.55m, but this was cut back to £327,000 following an appeal.

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