The High Court International Crimes Chamber has this Thursday acquitted 4 key suspects in a terrorism case that has been dragging on since 2017.
The case had 11 suspects including a a woman, arrested at different times and in different places around Rwanda. All were self-declared members of FDU-Inkingi political grouping that was until late last year headed by Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza. She has since detached from it and formed another group DALFA Umurinzi.
However, only 10 suspects have been appearing in court. The eleventh suspect Boniface Twagirimana, who was Ingabire’s deputy, has been missing since October 2018.
Ingabire accuses the government of kidnapping him from Magerage prison in Kigali, which it denies, instead saying he escaped from prison.
During the final submission by state prosecutors in November last year, the 10 were placed in two categories. There was category called “brain” and another as “recruits. Prosecutors also said all the suspects were part of a wider conspiracy to cause insecurity in Rwanda.
Those in the “brain” category were Bonifase Twagirimana, Fabien Twagirayasu, Gratien Nsabiyaremye, Evode Mbarushimana, Venant Abayisenga, Theophile Ntirutwa, Leonile Gasengayire (female).
Whereas, the so called “recruits” as branded by prosecution, were: Papias Ndayisenga (Ndayishimiye), Norbert Mfitamahoro, Athanase Kanyarukiko and Ernest Nkiko.
In the verdict today, the High Court Chamber acquitted Leonile Gasengayire (female), Venant Abayisenga, Theophile Ntirutwa from the so called “Brain” category. The court also acquitted Ernest Nkiko from the “Recruits” category.
The suspects, arrested seperately back in 2016 and 2017, are alleged to have been mobilising others to join “P5”, a rebel group which the UN has confirmed is operating in South Kivu, eastern Congo.
On the hand, the court, based in Nyanza district, southern Rwanda, sentenced Papias Ndayisenga (Ndayishimiye) and Gratien Nsabiyaremye to 7 years in jail.
Another lot including the missing Boniface Twagirimana and Mbarushimana were were given 10 years. Whereas Fabien Twagirayasu and Gratien Nsabiyaremye were handed 12 years.
This case was mired in controversy from start. The prosecution presented 1,000 pages of SMS and WhatsApp messages they said were communication among the suspects.
The accused’s defense lawyer, the renowned criminal defense attorney Gatera Gashabana put up a spirited dismissal of the messages. He accused the state of obtaining private messages illegally because there was never a court order giving the state permission to access the accused’s phones.
Gashabana also questioned the multitude of documents which prosecution had presented as supposed “confessions” of the suspects.
He said his clients were terribly tortured into giving and signing the alleged testimonies. “They were given two options; sign the confession or die,” said Gashabana, during one of the sessions.
The facts of the reasons based on to acquit some of the key suspects are yet to be detailed.