Judges at the Military High Court yesterday ruled in favour of the court competence to try all the 15 suspects in the terror trial involving among others, Lt. Joel Mutabazi, who stand accused of several crimes related to terrorism.
This came after some of the suspects said that as civilians, the court had no competence to try them.
According to the law, any civilian who is jointly accused with a soldier is tried on first instance in military courts. However, the suspects lodged a plea claiming that they do not know Mutabazi and never met him or worked with him while committing the alleged crimes.
The suspects and their lawyers told court that there was no justified link connecting Mutabazi and the group dubbed 'Butare students', formerly students at the National University of Rwanda.
However, Judge Charles Sumanyi told the suspects that the court had established the link at the beginning of the trial in February but the suspects insisted that the decision taken by the court did not apply to all but just a few.
This prompted the court to take a brief recess to review if indeed the court could grant the suspects their request of re-opening the competence plea.
"The court has decided to grant you your request basing on the fact that some of you did not get an opportunity to understand, challenge or question the competence of the Military High Court in trying your case," Judge Sumanyi told the suspects.
Apart from three relatives of Mutabazi who also face terrorism-related charges, the rest of the suspects attempted to challenge the competence of the court denying any link to Mutabazi and requested that their case be transferred to civilian courts.
Prosecution, however, insisted that the suspects are all inter-linked and there was no way the case could be separated.
"The major link is that all the suspects had a plan to overthrow the government and even made attempts. It is this crime that links them and the chain goes up to Mutabazi," said the prosecutors.
The judges had to review the plea of all parties and announced that the Military High Court has the competence to try all the suspects since they are linked.
"Mutabazi is linked to Kalisa through the crimes against the state, while Kalisa is linked to Jean Marie Vianney Ngabonziza, alias Patrick Rukundo through the same crime. The other suspects (Butare students) are also linked to Ngabonziza through the crimes of terrorism and crimes against the state," said the judge.
Lt. Mutabazi and his co-accused are charged of terrorism, formation of an armed group, spreading rumours with intent to incite the public to rise up against the state, murder, crimes against the state, illegal possession of a firearm, attempt to harm the person of the President and deserting the military.