15 November 2012

Rwanda: Battle of Appeals

Rwanda National Prosecution spokesperson Alain Mukurarinda says the chances of appealing the eight year jail sentence given to opposition leader Victoire Ingabire are high.

Ingabire was convicted of two counts of genocide denial and conspiracy and planning to cause state insecurity.

She was however acquitted of four other charges that included genocide ideology, promoting ethnic division and supporting armed groups. Her lawyer Ian Edwards said they would appeal immediately after reading the judgment. On the other hand, Prosecution is still waiting for the written verdict of the high court ruling before taking a final decision to appeal.

Mukurarinda, one of the two prosecutors who represented prosecution in Ingabire's case admits that failure to appeal means a possibility of Ingabire walking away free if she wins her appeal.

"If Ingabire appeals and prosecution does not, it means that the supreme court cannot give a heavier sentence than the one the high court has already given, so the court can either give a shorter sentence or scrap it altogether if she wins," Mukurarinda said.

The prosecution spokesperson also added that if they appeal, then everything starts from zero and if they win then Ingabire could face a big sentence. Athough prosecution is not willing to disclose what they will appeal against in the Supreme Court; Mukurarinda says that some points in the Judges' rulings like Ingabire receiving a short sentence due to the apology letter she wrote to the President are not clear.

"The ruling took four hours, so we have not yet established whether the judges also determined her jail term based on her apology letter to the President but the law is clear, the judges only take such apologies in consideration if the letter is addressed to court," Mukurarinda said.

He added that if a defendant does not address the court, then such apologies are meaningless.

In the letter, Ingabire asked for forgiveness from the President and Rwandans for statements she said on her arrival at the genocide memorial center in Gisozi, Kigali city in which she insinuated that there was a 'double genocide' in the country.


Mukurarinda also says the judges did not follow precedence when they gave different jail terms to different people who committed the same crimes.

"The facts of the cases of Deo Mushayidi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and Victoire Ingabire, are the same, and we clearly highlighted that during the hearing, it is still a puzzle why the judges ignored that," Mukurarinda said.

However Edwards is adamant the prosecution fabricated evidence against his client athough he refuses to mention the kind of evidence that he says should be inadmissible. He says they will table that during the appeal.

Ingabire's sentence of 8 year in jail not only surprised many people including her supporters but has elicited criticisms from the Umbrella body of Genocide Survivors (IBUKA).

Ibuka President Dr. Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu says all the crimes she was convicted of, especially trivializing the Genocide were premeditated.

"Ingabire chose the most sensitive place in the country to mock the Genocide survivors, she deserves the toughest punishment that would act as a warning to whoever tries to minimize the genocide," added the IBUKA president.

No parole

Having served a quarter of her jail term so far, Ingabire unlike her four co-accused is not allowed to request for parole because one of the crimes, she was convicted of --conspiracy and planning to cause state insecurity--cannot attract parole pardon.

The only alternative according to Mukurarinda is for Ingabire being granted a presidential pardon.

President Kagame has previously exercised this prerogative once, when he pardoned former President Pasteur Bizimungu in 2007 after serving 5 years of a 15 year jail term. Bizimungu had been convicted by the Supreme Court then headed by Aloysia Cyanzayire over charges of treason, embezzlement of public funds, creation of a criminal gang, and spreading malicious propaganda.

Allegations of Political interference

Since her trial began eight months ago, Ingabire has constantly claimed of a political witch hunt by the state and has complained that her trial is politically motivated to stop her party from registering and being involved in the political process of the country. Also during her trial,a couple of boys in the ages of 18-28,who are always dressed shabbily turn up wearing pink neckties to follow proceedings, it is not known whether they are part of her unregistered party or are mobilized by her cohorts to show support. Despite her claims of not getting a free and fair trial, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Tharcise Karugarama has gone on record to say that the trial was fair or transparent."

Ingabire's claims of the country's justice system not having the capacity to give her a free and fair trial have been denied by the government which gives examples of international cases that are sent back to Rwanda for trial. Such cases include the Leon Mugesera and Jean Uwinkindi trials. They are all suspected of committing genocide crimes.

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