The official whose case was first dismissed as “fake news” when allegations surfaced that she had refused to pick a candle at an event to commemorate victims of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, has been sent to jail.
The Intermediate Court in Rubavu district convicted Mukansanga Clarisse, who was until her arrest, the vice mayor for social affairs of Nyabihu district. The conviction was issued March 19, but is only becoming known now.
The court sentenced Mukansanga to 5 years and five months for genocide ideology, which can carry up to 25 years.
The shocking journey of how Mukansanga ended up in prison began on April 13, 2018. A small local news site nonaha.com published a lengthy story alleging that genocide survivors had witnessed in disbelief what Mukansanga had done.
Apparently, at a commemoration event the previous evening on April 12, which was within the 7-day annual national commemoration week, and as is the tradition for all people attending – they lit candles, Mukansanga did the opposite.
The lighting of the memorial flame is followed by hours of horrific testimonies given by survivors.
Mukansanga did not pick the candle from the team distributing them. Even as everyone else lit their candle, Mukansanga remained put unbothered.
According to a narration by the news site of what transpired, Mukansanga who was seated in the tent prepared for senior district officials and some survivors, she was asked by those neighbouring her why she was not having a candle.
In response, Mukansanga reportedly said in Kinyarwanda: “Iyi buji nimuyihereze abafite ababo bibuka, ni bo bazikeneye”. (Give the candle to those who have people they are mourning, they are the one who need them [candles]).
The incident could not have happened at a worst time. The date April 12 is when, in the evening, commemoration events are held across Rwanda as the national commemoration week ends the next day April 13.
No such incident of refusing a memorial flame had ever happened before.
The news story published by nonaha.com made it to social media. Soon, the official herself Mukansanga would give several interviews to other media in which she strongly dismissed the accusations.
According to her version of events, the candles were few, so, that she had indicated that the few candles be given to other people because she was an official and could not have it while her people did not.
Posts on social media rapped the information as fake news.
But genocide survivors’ umbrella grouping IBUKA was having non of it. In statements that proceeded, they promised to follow up the incident to its conclusive end.
IBUKA said at the time that until the truth was established, Mukansanga would not be allowed at any commemoration event.
On the morning of May 11, a month after, she tendered her resignation to the Nyabihu district Council. Within hours, she was arrested by police, and has since been battling to clear her name in court.
The Intermediate Court found that the statements she uttered while refusing to pick the candle was intentional, meant to undermine the spirit of genocide commemoration.
Directly and openly acting or verbally denying the 1994 genocide against Tutsis carries long prison sentence. But acts of genocide ideology like that of Mukansanga attract up to 9 years in prison plus fine of Rwf1m ($1,100).
In case Mukansanga has not appealed yet, she will be back in society in 2024 around September or October.