Rwanda ex-military officers convicted over comments criticizing government News
Rwanda ex-military officers convicted over comments criticizing government

The Military High Court of Kanombe in Rwanda on Thursday sentenced [HRW report] Colonel Tom Byabagamba and retired Brigadier General Frank Rusagara to 21 and 20 years in prison respectively on charges of inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], the prosecution had accused them of criticizing the government, “alleging state involvement in assassinations of opponents, and complaining about foreign and economic policy.” A third officer, retired Sergeant François Kabayiza, was sentenced to five years for concealing evidence. All three officers have indicated their intention to appeal the decision. According to HRW, “the conviction of three Rwandan former military officials in a flawed trial is a clear example of the misuse of the justice system to stifle freedom of expression … and form part of a pattern of government repression, both inside and outside the country, of people critical of the Rwandan government or suspected of having links with opposition groups … To prohibit or criminalize the exchange of personal political commentary in private conversations or e-mail exchanges is not a legitimate restriction on the right.”

Rwanda has faced criticism for its human rights record. The International Criminal Tribunal [official website] for Rwanda (ICTR), established in 1994, was the first international tribunal to deliver verdicts against those guilty of committing genocide. Within its 21 years, the ICTR sentenced 61 extremists to terms of up to life imprisonment for their roles in the Rwandan genocide. There were 14 acquittals, and 10 accused were transferred to national courts during this period. An International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has been established, and eight fugitives remain at large. Only in January 2016, after issuing 45 judgments, did the ICTR formally close [UN News Centre report]. In December Interpol [official website] agents announced the arrest [JURIST report] of Rwandan genocide suspect, Ladislas Ntaganzwa, who had a US $5 million bounty [BBC report]. In September a court in Toulouse, France, refused extradition requests [JURIST report] for Joseph Habyarimana, a Rwandan man, facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. In January 2014 two Rwandan police officers were sentenced [JURIST report] to 20 years in jail for the murder of a Transparency International anti-corruption activist. Last July the ICTR unanimously affirmed [JURIST report] a 30-year jail sentence for former army chief Augustin Bizimungu for the role he played in the genocide. In December 2012 the ICTR convicted [JURIST report] former Rwandan minister Augustin Ngirabatware, sentencing him to 35 years in prison on charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and rape as a crime against humanity.