December 28, 2019

Family In Tears As 2 Former Top Military Officers Get New Long Jail Sentences

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Col Tom Byabagamba (C) with his co-accused and brother-in-law Brig Gen Frank Rusagara. Their lawyer is planning appeal to the African court in Tanzania

Former commander of the Presidential Guard Col Tom Byabagamba and his brother-in-law Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara’s legal fortunes are now over.

The Court of Appeal ruled Friday evening that the two be jailed for 15years and be stripped of their military ranks.

Col Byabagamba was found guilty of disrespecting the national flag while part of the Rwandan peacekeeping contingent in South Sudan. He was also found guilty of spreading harmful propaganda while still serving officer.

Together with Byabagamba, his co-accused Brig Gen Rusagara, they were found guilty of undermining the state by the comments they made over a long period. Other charges were also upheld.

They were jailed in 2015 to 21 years for Byabagamba and 20 years for Rusagara over the same charges by the military high court. They appealed and the hearings began early this year.

The new dimension to their plight in the Court of Appeal is having their military ranks removed. It is Byabagamba’s which were removed in court, for Rusagara he had been appearing in the green military prison uniform.

The case of these two men is particularly strange as it also attracted intervention of 6 British lawmakers. A letter they wrote demanding their release actually made it worse, as par statements made by President Paul Kagame.

The legal avenues are now over internally. They can only appeal to the Office of the Ombudsman for a review of their case – which they are unlikely to do.

However, their defense lawyer Pierre Celestin Buhuru is quoted in local media as saying following the Appeals verdict that he will consult with them on whether they can go to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights based in Tanzania.

This court has handled so far 3 cases involving Rwanda, brought by dissident and opposition groups. One of them was decided last month in which this court directed Rwanda government to restore passports of dissidents and compensate them in 6 months.

Meanwhile, in court today, as the appeals verdict was read and the ranks of Col Byabagamba were being removed, family members erupted into tears, which continued outside. They could be seen hugging comforting each other.

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