A pregnant mother from Leeds has been reunited with her young sons after two months held in a Rwandan prison charged with crimes against the government.
Youth worker Violette Uwamahoro disappeared on February 14 after travelling to attend her father’s funeral, sparking fears she was being tortured over her husband’s political views.
Her two sons, David and Sam aged 10 and eight, last month wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May begging her to intervene.
This week, suddenly home after a judge ruled there was no case against her, she has spoken of her heartache and fear over the future of her unborn child, and of her joy at being reunited with her sons after the case attracted enormous public support.
“I felt so powerless, that I might not see my boys again,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
Opening up for the first time about the traumatic ordeal, the 39-year-old said she had been waiting for a bus in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, on her way home to England, when she was suddenly bundled into a car. She had no idea who the two men were who suddenly appeared, covering her face, other than that they claimed to be the police. And that they said she was under arrest for trying to create an army.
“They could have been anyone,” she said. “I was thinking that anything could happen. I was starting to see the end of it, and that could be death. When someone covers your face, when you’re in the dark, in a city you don’t know, surrounded by people you don’t know, it’s a very dark time.”
Mrs Uwamahoro, it emerged, was under arrest for treason. Held by the country’s military police, she was taken to a safe house where she was kept for five days.
“She was arrested, brutally arrested, pushed into a car,” her husband Faustin Rukundo said yesterday, visibly shaken as he speaks from the couple’s semi-detached home in Leeds. “She’s pregnant, but nobody would listen to her. Her face was covered, she didn’t know where she was. They took her to a safe house, handcuffed her, chained her. It was a form of torture.”
In the days that followed her arrest, the family had no idea where she was. Her husband, a youth organiser with the opposition Rwandan National Congress group, couldn’t set foot in the country. Back at home with the couple’s two boys, he was fearful that she would be killed as they tried to force information from her about his own politics.
Mother’s Day was hardest, Mr Rukundo said, as the boys desperately wanted to get her a gift.
“They wanted to buy her flowers, but it was too much for them,” said the lab technician, a British national along with his wife who has lived in the UK since 2004. “I knew they were going to die before their mother came home.”
But the next day, everything changed. Mrs Uwamahoro had appeared in court and a judge had granted her unconditional bail, finding no evidence. She was free to go. Two days later her boys spoke to her for the first time. And on Wednesday she arrived at Manchester Airport.
“I was so excited to see them,” said Mrs Uwamahoro, now six months pregnant. “I was so worried my baby would come when I was on my own, surrounded by people I would call my enemies.”
The couple were fearful at times, they said, that Mrs Uwamahoro might never come home but the constant support; of neighbours, of MP Hilary Benn, and of the children’s school, helped them through. “Violette couldn’t just disappear,” said Mr Rukundo. “It became a crisis.” A foreign office spokeswoman said: “We have provided assistance to a British woman and her family following her arrest in Rwanda and our staff in Kigali have been in touch with local authorities throughout.” The Rwandan High Commission was unavailable for comment.