July 15, 2019

Ex-presidential Guard Lt Mutabazi Gets Eyeglasses, Raises More Concerns

Lt Joel Mutabazi during the first original military trial. He was always handcuffed, one of the grounds he has raised in his appeal to demonstrate that he didn’t get a fair trial.

Lt Joel Mutabazi, whose case contributed to current Rwanda-Uganda standoff, continues to raise more concerns in the ongoing review of his case by the Appeals Court.

Appearing for the start of the substantive appeals hearing, Lt Mutabazi, a former commando with the elite Presidential Guard, was wearing eyeglasses provided by the Ministry of Defense.

In seeking bail, which the Appeals Court denied, Mutabazi had informed the 3-member panel of Justices that due to the poor detention conditions, he was going blind. He said he couldn’t afford eyeglasses, which the Prosecutors confirmed would be provided.

Mutabazi was sentenced in October 2014 by military high court for among many charges leading plot to assassinate President Paul Kagame. Before his conviction, he had previously escaped from a high-security military jail to Uganda, from where he was “kidnapped” and brought back by Rwandan agents, as per his own narration.

When he reappeared in Rwanda, many top Ugandan police officers including former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura, were arrested and are facing military court martial for Mutabazi’s alleged kidnap.

Today, Mutabazi informed the Appeals Court panel that he is treated from the Rwanda Military Hospital on ‘Mutuel health insurance’ card meant for civilians, yet he is considered a soldier – even brought to court in full military fatigue.

“Imagine the irony here. I was a refugee when I was kidnapped. Am still a refugee even in ths court and am forced to wear this uniform,” said Mutabazi.

Prosecutors dismissed this claim, explaining that Lt Mutabazi deserted the army and was not officially discharged, which means he remains a soldier.

In the same appeals case, Lt Mutabazi, an Israeli trained commando, appears with several other co-accused – civilians and soldiers.

Among the Prosecution’s key witnesses is Mutabazi’s brother who turned against him during the original trial in the military high court.

The case opened at 8:30am – running for the entire day, only stopping for a short 30min break around lunchtime. The session was marked by the usual angry exchanges between the two sides.

Lt Mutabazi, looking malnourished, is appealing against his life sentence on 8 counts including illegal possession of a firearm. He has filed 4 ground for his appeal including that the military court did not have the competence to try him since he was a refugee.

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