WASHINGTON - The United States on Wednesday accused Rwanda of carrying out arbitrary arrests and urged President Paul Kagame's government to respect freedom of expression.
Washington said it was "deeply concerned by the arrest and disappearance of dozens of Rwandan citizens" as well as "credible reports" of threats to journalists.
"The United States calls upon the government of Rwanda to account for individuals arrested over the past two months and currently in custody, and to respect the rights under Rwandan law and international human rights law of the individuals detained and arrested," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
"We also call upon Rwanda to fully respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press so that they can investigate, report and facilitate discussion on issues of public concern."
The United States, while supporting "all lawful efforts to identify individuals who seek to use violence against the Rwandan people and government," said democratic societies need due process of law, including the right of citizens to challenge their detention.
The statement welcomed steps in recent days to bring some individuals before court. Separately, leading opposition figure Bernard Ntaganda was freed Wednesday after a four-year jail term.
Rwanda swiftly rejected the criticism, saying that it was responding to threats from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) -- remnants of the Hutu group linked to the 1994 genocide in which at least 800,000 Tutsis died.
"In all instances, police and security agencies in Rwanda have acted lawfully. Accused individuals are entitled to, and receive, due process -- suggestions otherwise, including claims of 'disappearances,' are false," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement.
"We call on all parties to refrain from discourse and actions that embolden the FDLR and its allies, and thereby endanger the lives of Rwandans," Mushikiwabo said.
In 2012 the US suspended military aid to Rwanda over allegations that it was supporting a rebellion in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. But Harf told reporters separately she did not have any information on whether a similar move was under consideration.
Western nations supported Kagame after the 1994 Tutsi genocide but have increasingly been critical due to his government's purported abuses against critics and alleged interference in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Human Rights Watch last month reported an increasing number of forcible disappearances in Rwanda and said there were "indications of involvement of state agents."
Rwanda accused the New York-based group of spreading the equivalent of "political propaganda for terrorist groups."
Harf said the US was looking into what allegations may have been made against those who have been arrested, and would continue raising it with the Rwandan government.
Fill in your Name and Email Address to receive a Free Newsletter
US voices concern on Rwanda arrests