KIGALI, Rwanda — Diane Rwigara, Rwanda’s most prominent opposition figure, was cleared by the country’s high court on Thursday of all charges related to her election challenge against President Paul Kagame, after the judges found that the prosecution had failed to provide evidence of insurrection and forgery.
The courtroom, packed with diplomats and supporters, erupted in applause as the verdict was announced, and Ms. Rwigara and her mother, Adeline Rwigara, 59, who was acquitted of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism, were overcome with tears. Relatives who had prayed before the hearing for protection swarmed them with hugs.
The younger Ms. Rwigara, 37, who was arrested after trying to run for president last year, is a rare domestic critic of Mr. Kagame in a country that has shown little tolerance for political dissent.
The Rwandan leader has won praise for leading the country’s recovery from the 1994 genocide and for advances in economic development and women’s rights, but he has also come under fire from critics who accuse of him acting in an increasingly autocratic manner.
Ms. Rwigara, who had denounced the charges against her as politically motivated, could have faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted.
United States lawmakers urged Rwanda’s government to drop the charges, with Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, noting “what appears to be highly questionable charges against Rwigara for seemingly running for office peacefully.”
In response, Rwanda’s justice minister said that courts should not be pressured by third parties.
The three-judge panel said there was no proof that Rwandans had been incited to act against the state by Ms. Rwigara’s remarks to the media. The court also said that intercepted WhatsApp audio files from her mother were private conversations and did not incite insurrection.
Speaking to The Associated Press before the verdict was announced, Ms. Rwigara was defiant, saying no amount of pressure would silence her.
“I hope to be cleared of all these made-up charges, but I am ready for any outcome,” she said, describing the courts as unpredictable and lacking independence.
Some analysts have said Mr. Kagame was loosening the country’s restrictions on dissent, after the government in September pardoned thousands of prisoners, including an opposition party leader and a political activist.
Ms. Rwigara has previously acknowledged the risks of running against Mr. Kagame, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Soon after she announced her intention to run, nude photographs purported to be of her — she said they had been manipulated — were published on social media in what her supporters called an effort to undermine her credibility.
Ms. Rwigara was later disqualified from running, with the government saying she lacked enough supporting signatures and had forged some of them. Mr. Kagame won a third term with more than 98 percent of the vote.