February 27, 2019

Congolese Refugees in Court Claim Mental Illness

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The 26 Congolese refugees in court in Karongi district

Some of the Congolese refugees currently on trial for organizing protests in which several of them were killed by Rwandan security forces have told court they are mentally unstable.

On Tuesday, 26 suspects – all men appeared in Karongi district court for the start of the trial after a year in detention.

On February 22-23, 2018, angry protests broke out in the Kiziba refugee camp, home to more than 18,000 Congolese. Carrying placards and chanting, they matched to the local UN refugee agency UNHCR office in Karongi town and local government offices.

Despite intervention by local officials urging them to calm down as their grievances were handled, they became more rowdy. Security forces were called up. The protestors were demanding more food rations and better living conditions.

In the chaos that ensued, and continued inside the camp, seven refugees were killed. Some of the anti-riot police officers also sustained serious injuries.

Dozens of suspects were arrested and are facing prosecution on serious charges including insurrection, holding illegal demonstration and attacking security forces.

Among those arrested are former members of the various rebellions which ravaged eastern DR Congo. Two of them are former soldiers of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). Some are teenagers whose case will be handled separately.

Before the court this Tuesday, among the 26 in the dock, the two of them who are ex-RDF told court that they are unable to stand trial because they are mentally unstable.

Standing together, they asked court to release them so that they can get treatment. According to them, the were mentally ill even before the demonstrations took place.

However, prosecution dismissed their plea – arguing that a medical assessment conducted by the Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital (located in eastern Rwanda) found no evidence the suspects were sick.

In reaction, the two suspects said the medical official who conducted the diagnosis is a soldier and cannot be trusted. In addition, they claim they should have been taken to the Kigali University Teaching Hispital (CHUK).

Court adjourned and will continue hearing their case on March 13.

Meanwhile, this Wednesday, according to UMUSEKE online publication, another group, accused of being the leaders of the camp who clandestinely fomented the protests, will appear in their own trial.

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