It WAS a plea so surreal it almost defied belief. A pregnant Leeds mother, feared kidnapped in Rwanda and tortured over her husband’s political standing.
Bundled into an unmarked car after her father’s funeral, youth worker Violette Uwamahoro was kept in chains in a “safe house” while awaiting trial and charged with crimes against the government.
Dramatically freed after an impassioned campaign, she was suddenly returned home to Yorkshire and to her two young sons in April after The Yorkshire Post highlighted her story.
Now, four months on, she has given birth to a healthy baby boy. Gideon’s birth this week, so hard fought for, marks a new chapter in the family’s story.
And he will grow up, they say, to know the battle that was fought – by this newspaper, by MP Hilary Benn, and by neighbours and strangers alike, to save him.
“This boy owes a tribute of gratitude to the British public,” said father Faustin Rukundo.
“This is the first time ever, in Rwandan history, that someone has been held in these circumstances and then set free.
“This boy was not going to be here. His fate was decided. The best outcome would have been for him to be born in prison. We didn’t dare hope for this.
“He has been given the chance of life. He is to grow up knowing that.”
Mrs Uwamahoro, 39, was held for two months by Rwandan military police, facing charges against the government after travelling to the country to attend her father’s funeral.
Her husband, a youth organiser with the opposition Rwandan National Congress group, had been fearful she would be killed as they tried to force information from her about his own politics.
Back home with the couple’s two sons, 11-year-old David and Sam, eight, he had tried frantically to muster support while protecting them from what was happening.
“At first, I told the boys their mother had lost her passport,” said Mr Rukundo, a lab technician who is a British national along with his wife and has lived in the UK since 2004. “Then, as the days went on, I couldn’t deny it any more. I had to tell them the truth.
“They were asking me how long until she came home... then when they realised, they were asking how could they grow up without a mother?
“We were driving. I didn’t want them to see me crying, so I stopped at a garage and went to buy something, anything, so they couldn’t see my face. I knew it could happen. We have people in Rwanda who are arrested and who never appear again.”
But the community rallied. The couple’s neighbours offered help for lawyers, Mr Benn raised the case with Boris Johnson. And it began to make international headlines.
In early April, Mrs Uwamahoro was suddenly freed. A judge ruled there was no case against her and she was granted unconditional bail. Within days, she was home.
Crediting The Yorkshire Post for raising a “noise” that went further than could ever have been hoped, Mr Rukundo said it meant more to the family than they could express.
Thanking all those who supported them – their neighbours, places of work, the boys’ school, the family GP and, in particular, Mr Benn, he said: “We owe such massive thanks. It helped me not to give up, because that support was there. As a family it means more than we can say.”
The past few months have been a difficult time of adjustment, Mr Rukundo said, not least over fears for the health of the baby his wife was carrying.
But, after Gideon was born on Monday at Leeds General Infirmary, weighing seven pounds, the family feel they have been granted a new start.
Mrs Uwamahoro, cradling her young son in her arms, says she is just grateful he is healthy and safe. Her nightmares, she says, were over losing him in a prison cell in Rwanda.
“I was really scared to have a baby there,” she said. “There were doctors and nurses, but they were soldiers. I thought I would lose my life and the baby as well. I’m happy now, to have my baby. To be surrounded by my family, friends. I’m appreciative.”
And, says Mr Rukundo, it has changed their family forever.
“It has marked us,” he said. “We will make sure Gideon grows up knowing what’s happened. That is our task and our responsibility.
“If people hadn’t helped, this boy probably wouldn’t be alive. Or, best outcome, he would have been born in prison.
“His older brothers can’t really imagine what happened now, because they are happy. But this boy changed everything.
“We’ve had a difficult year. It’s affected everybody. Now everything has changed again.
“It’s a new chapter in our life. We have hope that it will be good.”
Handcuffed and kept in chains
Mrs Uwamahoro, who had travelled to Rwanda for her father’s funeral, disappeared from a bus station in February.
She was taken by two men and, her head covered, forced into a car. The youth worker, who is non-political, had no idea why they wanted her – other than that they claimed she was trying to raise an army.
“They could have been anyone,” she said. “I was thinking anything could happen.”
For five days she was held in a “safe house”, under arrest. She was handcuffed, kept in chains, with no information and no contact initially with her family.
In April, after her case gained worldwide attention, she was suddenly freed after a judge found there was no evidence against her.
The Rwandan High Commission was unavailable for comment when approached by The Yorkshire Post.