Sergeant (Rtd) François Kabayiza, convicted together with ex-presidential guard commander Col Tom Byabagamba, has refused to be set free – a decision that has shocked a court in Kigali.
This Tuesday, Kabayiza, Col Byabagamba and co-convict Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara, were supposed to appear for the continuation of the appeal against their conviction. However, Sergeant Kabayiza didn’t turn up in court.
Me. Milton Nkuba, defense lawyer for Kabayiza told the Appeals chamber that his client was not in court because he is extremely ill and is in hospital.
It is at this point that a military prosecutor sought to speak. He informed court that Kabayiza is no longer party to the accused trio. The prosecutor said Kabayiza had completed his sentence and was freed on August 24.
On March 31, 2016, Col Byabagamba, Brig Gen (Rtd) Rusagara with his driver Sergeant Kabayiza were sentenced by the military court to varied terms. Byabagamba got 21 years, as Rusagara was given 20 years, while Kabayiza got 5 years.
The two senior officers were jailed for cases including inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image. The prosecution had accused them of criticizing the government, alleging state involvement in assassinations of opponents, and complaining about foreign and economic policy. Kabayiza was jailer for concealing evidence.
All three immediately announced they would appeal. The process only got to the appeals court in May this year.
And when the appeals opened, the three sought bail, which was denied in subsequent hearings.
Today, the court had scheduled to start the substantive hearing of the trio’s appeal. But then the Kabayiza issue is what dominated the hearings.
While prosecution informed court that Kabayiza had been freed, defense lawyer Nkuba said his client has not been released, and will go on with the appeal.
The lawyer told court that the moment the appeals process got underway, the decision of the military court was no longer applicable.
Despite back and fourth arguments lasting quite a while, the appeals court ruled that Kabayiza will be removed from the case, and that court will only hear the appeal of Col Byabagamba and Brig Gen Rusagara.
As concerns the sickness of Kabayiza, right from the time of the original trial, he usually came to court limping and looking to be in pain. In most of the sessions, he asked to sit as he was unable to stand. He told court that he had been tortured, but his pleas were not given consideration.
Our reporter in the court today says that there was visible reactions of anger from Byabagamba and Rusagara, which has been their usual reaction in hearings at court decisions, to show their displeasure.