Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rwanda: Prosecution seeks life sentence after Ingabire’s withdrawal

By Ruhumuza Mbonyumutwa  and Jack Mugabo


April 25, 2012

The Rwandan prosecution says it will seek life imprisonment for opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, in the trial which turned out to be a very controversial one.
 Photo:Victoire Ingabire
On Monday, April 16, 2012, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza told the High Court of Kigali that she had “irrevocably lost confidence in the possibility of a fair trial” and that therefore “she will boycott all future court hearings”. Such a decision was taken because of “the persistent lack of fairness since the start of her trial”, including continuous intimidations against defense witnesses and defense lawyers. She instructed her defense counsel to abide by her decision and stay away from this unfortunate circus.”
The prosecutor said that “the alleged intimidations of defense witnesses” were not a sufficient reason to withdraw from the trial and that she may be forced to appear in court even in case she persists in wanting to boycott the court hearings adding that if necessary, a new lawyer would be appointed to represent her in her absence.
Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza told the High Court that the situation has reached a point of no return and that a fair trial is impossible under those conditions. “Although I am accused of terrible crimes, my witnesses are being intimidated and the Court does not care”, she said before going through a brief review of all the difficulties she encountered so far and demonstrating that her trial was rather political than judicial.
Among the issues mentioned, she disclosed the contents of her secret meeting with the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga, who, she says, told her that she was arrested because she created a political deadlock within the government, alleging that she would like establish “a Hutu regime” because she and her party accuse the RPF of having committed crimes against the Hutu population. The Prosecutor General said that the government expects an apology from her in exchange for a government pardon. On May 13, 2011, in response to these private discussions, Ms. Victoire Ingabire  sent a private letter to the Prosecutor General in which she advised the regime to release all political prisoners, open up political space and start discussions with the opposition. “Shall I die or live, imprisoned or be freed, what we have accomplished will never be wiped out”because this movement is stronger than myself”, she specifically wrote in her letter released today by her political party on her request.
The straw that broke the already over filled vase was the refusal by the Court, on Monday, April 16, 2012, to hear Michel Habimana, former spokesman of the FDLR, that the defense counsel had called in as a witness about the alleged intimidations against the defense witnesses. The Court refused to hear him on this issue and ordered him to leave the courtroom.
On April 11, this witness was called to the stand and appeared in court although the prosecutor objected to the possibility that he would be heard as a defense witness invoking a previous conviction for genocide by a Gacaca court; the Court agreed to hear him without swearing in, just for the court’s own information.
In his lengthy testimony of April 11, the former FDLR officer, completely dismantled the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness, namely, “Major” Vital Uwumuremyi. According to Michel Habimana, who was acquainted to Vital Uwumuremyi in custody, the later is working for Rwandan secret services; he had even tried to recruit Michel Habimana in 2009 so that together they could trump up false charges against Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza on behalf of the Rwandan regime.
“From the beginning we were hoping for some kind of fair trial. But it didn’t take long before we realized that a fair trial would never take place”, Ingabire’s British Lawyer, Iain Edwards, told a Dutch journalist, Anneke verbreaken, close to the case in an extensive interview.
The alleged intimidations and interrogations outside the courtroom of the defense witness(s) by the prosecution led human rights activist to question the fairness of this trail.
“There are concerns about two incidents in particular,” Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch told the VOA News. “One is the sudden search of his prison cell apparently on the orders of the prosecution, in which all his papers were seized, the notes of the statement he would make in court.  And the second aspect, which seems also very concerning, is that this same witness was questioned in the prison – not in the court but in the prison – by the prison director and another official in the absence of any lawyer and in parallel with the court proceedings.”
In the Netherlands, which has been supporting the Rwandan judicial system heavily since the 1994 genocide, MPs went on calling for a stop of the aid after viewing the documentary evidence by the Radio Netherlands Worldwide .
“That a witness would have been manipulated confirms once again that these things happen inRwanda,” said Dutch MP Joël Voordewind of the Christian Union (CU) party. “This leads to the suspicion that we should break our cooperation with this trial.”
A week before the start of the trail six month ago, in the article titled “Ingabire’s trial becomes a litmus test for Kagame government”, the author, Simon Allion, stated: “If Ingabire is genuinely guilty, and can be shown to be so, Kagame will be vindicated. If she’s found not guilty, or proceedings degenerate into a show trial, Kagame will have serious questions to answer about abuse of power and his commitment to democracy.”
Regardless of what the verdict is going to be, this case has shown once again, how fragile and how the Rwandan justice system can be manipulated and used for political aims from all sides.
In November 2011 while in Kigali,U.S.Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, criticizedRwanda‘Closed Political Life’: “Press restrictions persist.  Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed.  Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared”, said Ambassador Rice.
If Ms. Victoire Ingabire is found ‘guilty’, she will join other opposition leaders who are already serving their sentences in the infamous Kigali maximum security prison known as 1930, for almost similar crimes as the ones Ms Ingabire is accused of. The most known are Mr. Deo Mushayidi of PDP-Imanzi who is serving a life sentence and Me Bernard Ntaganda of PS-Imberakuri who is serving a 4-year sentence.


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