April 2, 2020

Prosecutor General Preparing List of Suspects to be Released in Coronavirus Control Scheme

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Here is the letter sent to all State Prosecutors this Wednesday April 1, giving them benchmarks to base on to prepare lists of suspects that will be released as part of Government’s coronavirus control measures

All state prosecutors across Rwanda have been asked to compile lists of suspects that can be freed from detention cells in the wake the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Prosecutor General Aimable Havugiyaremye on Wednesday sent a template to the prosecutors which they are required to fill up. The cells are overcrowded and the courts are closed, says Havugiyaremye in letter to his team.

As of Wednesday evening, there were 82 confirmed Coronavirus cases. The country is currently on total lockdown in government attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

The entire court system is on hold, leaving hundreds, perhaps thousands of suspects in police and RIB cells unable to clear their names. Those whom the suspects wronged cannot also get justice.

Medical advisory that is attempting to control the pandemic is dictating what has been termed as “social distancing”. People have to be more than a meter apart, anywhere, according to repetitive government messages on nearly all media.

Detention cells, as more suspects arrive daily, may be the new frontier that will very easily aid the spread of the virus. It seems, government doesn’t want to take that risk. It want cells emptied up, and FAST.

Prosecutor General Havugiyaremye has set specific benchmarks that his team will use to determine who gets released. The template has 3 Categories of what to look for in the inmates’ dossier.

Category 1, the prosecutors have to look for, is suspects who are facing serious charges such as murder, corruption, defilement, consumption and distribution of drugs, human trafficking and repeat offenders. These ones will not qualify for release and will have to wait until the courts open.

In Category 2, the prosecutors will compile list of those who could be released after them paying a fine without going to court. As detailed in the legal instruments available, these people will be required to pay fine and set free – ending all further prosecution.

As for category 3, Prosecutor General Havugiyaremye wants list of suspects who can be given ‘provisional release’. Their cases will proceed after the courts open, while they will also be out even after the post-coronavirus period.

This category includes women in detention with babies, and teenagers. They will be out up until their case is disposed off by the courts.

This category will also outlines suspects who can be released on Bond, some form of security by the suspects that they will not jeopardise the case once released back into the community.

Another group are people arrested on domestic violence charges and family troubles. These will be required to established avenues of reconciliation with the wronged partner, and if they accept to forgive, then suspect is released. But case will remain, to be reopened when courts start.

The other list the prosecutors have been asked to compile is suspects who have committed crimes of causing harm or damaging property. The suspect will be asked to pay for the damage caused, and if they can, will be released. But the case still stays until it will be disposed by the courts.

Prosecutors have also been asked to list suspects for whose files they have yet to establish sufficient evidence. The suspects will be freed, if they can be able to demonstrate that they won’t do anything to jeopardise investigations once they reopen after COVID-19.

Finally, the state prosecutors have also been asked to propose other criterion that can be based on to determine fate particular suspects as they will see fit.

There is no details yet as to the deadline when prosecutors are expected to have finished those lists, and when the releases will begin to be effected. However, considering the urgency with which coronavirus control measures are being taken, it could be very soon.

It is also not clear at this point if this mass release scheme by the Prosecutor General will reach those in prisons, but have not been convicted yet. There are thousands of such people in Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS) facilities, usually after they were denied bail by the courts.

A suspect is presented to media at Police post in Kigali. Usually, a suspect stays in Police cell up until they are either denied bail by courts, and thereby sent to prison, or freed without charge

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