The case of jailed Nyabihu district vice mayor shocked the nation in April 2018. After more than two years in jail, Mukansanga Clarisse is a free woman following decision of an appeals court.
The court ruled that the comments that negate the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, which Mukansanga is alleged to have made at a commemoration event on April 12, 2018, may actually never said. As a consequence, added the court, Mukansanga is innocent and should be freed immediately.
Mukansanga appealed her case to the High Court International Crimes Division based in Nyanza district, southern Rwanda. The initial trial was conducted by a lower court in Rubavu district, more than 60km away from the original scene of the alleged crime.
The Rubavu court had jailed her for 5yrs and five months in March 2019, nearly a year after the date of the crime. Mukansanga had been charged with genocide ideology, which carries up to 25 years in jail.
The shocking journey of how Mukansanga ending up in prison began when a local Kinyarwanda news site published a lengthy story alleging that genocide survivors had witnessed in disbelief what Mukansanga had done.
Apparently, at a commemoration event on the evening on April 12, 2018, which was within the 7-day annual national commemoration week, and as is the tradition for all people attending – they lit candles, Mukansanga did the opposite.
The lighting of the memorial flame is followed by hours of horrific testimonies given by survivors.
Mukansanga, according to the said witnesses, did not pick the candle from the team distributing them. Even as everyone else lit their candle, Mukansanga is said to have remained put unbothered.
According to a narration by the witnesses of what transpired, Mukansanga who was seated in the tent prepared for senior district officials and some survivors, she was asked by those neighbouring her why she was not having a candle.
In response, Mukansanga reportedly said in Kinyarwanda: “Iyi buji nimuyihereze abafite ababo bibuka, ni bo bazikeneye”. (Give the candle to those who have people they are mourning, they are the one who need them [candles]).
The incident could not have happened at a worst time. The date April 12 is when, in the evening, commemoration events are held across Rwanda as the national commemoration week ends the next day April 13.
No such incident of refusing a memorial flame had ever happened before. The Chronicles has covered this case widely from when it began.
Within days, Mukansanga was arrested and dismissed from her job as vice mayor of rural Nyabibu district. Months of what could have been traumatising court appearances began, leading to her eventual conviction. All throughout, Mukansanga maintained she never made that negationist comment.
In its verdict issued this Tuesday December 15, the High Court said based on narrations of defense witnesses presented by Mukansanga’s lawyer, it was doubtful she ever made the alleged comment.
And since the court couldn’t affirm if indeed the negationist comment was ever uttered, Mukansanga cannot be convicted, as par article 111 of a 2019 Law relating to the criminal procedure.
Article 111 reads: “The benefit of doubt is given to the accused. If the proceedings conducted as completely as possible do not enable judges to find reliable evidence proving beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence, the judges order his or her acquittal.”
Prosecution had during the trial presented five witnesses who claimed to have personally heard Mukansanga making the negationist phrases. However, two Nyabihu district employees Munyambabazi Selemani and Gapolisi Joe told the High Court that indeed the vice mayor was given the candle but handed it to people neighboring, her without making any statement.
After handing over her candle, said the defense witnesses, Mukansanga rushed immediately to find out why candles were so few that not all mourners were able to receive their own. As a vice mayor, it was her duty to intervene.
The prosecution witnesses who also attended the said event back in April 2018, could not confidently without any doubt affirm whether Mukansanga had retorted the alleged comment. As a result, the High Court said the lower court had ignored reviewing the case objectively without emotions.
The High Court ordered that Mukansanga is innocent and must be freed immediately.
Unless the prosecution heads to the Court of Appeal to contest the High Court’s decision, it means all is over for Mukansanga.