19 November 2017

Rwanda: Rwigara Accuses Court of Lacking Autonomy

Photo: Diane Shima Rwigara/Twitter
Diane Rwigara being taken to court.

Former presidential aspirant Diane Rwigara last week accused a Rwandan court of lacking the independence to try her case fairly, arguing that the decisions made at her insurrection trial will come directly from the President's Office.

"I know that you are powerless to deliver a fair verdict and to give me bail. You are trying my case but the real power and decisions will come from the President's Office, not from you," Ms Rwigara told the three-judge panel.

"But I urge you to try the best you can and be fair," she added.

Ms Rwigara's outburst came after the court once again postponed a decision on her application for bail after several adjournments during the day. She was appearing alongside her mother Adeline Rwigara in the High Court in Kigali on Thursday following their appeal against denial of bail.

Her statement drew an immediate rebuke from the prosecution, whom she also accused of working with the government to "cook up charges and evidence."

"The kind of language that Ms Rwigara is using is disrespectful to the court," said lead prosecutor Faustin Nkusi adding, "The prosecution is a body whose work is mandated by the Constitution and Ms Rwigara should know that she is innocent until proven guilty. The court deserves respect from all of those appearing before it."

'Personal opinions'

Ms Rwigara is charged with inciting public insurrection and forging documents, which she has consistently denied and labelled "politically motivated."

She also accused the National Electoral Commission of manipulating identification numbers of supporters who endorsed her in order to bolster the forgery charges against her. Her lawyer, Celestin Buhuru, argued that the insurrection charges are baseless and hinged on "mere personal opinions."

Mr Nkusi told the court that the duo should not be granted bail due to the grave nature of the charges they face.

"The words Diane used in her WhatsApp audios and in her press conferences, clearly show that she intended to smear the country and its leadership with lies," he said.

"She said that people are dying of poverty in Rwanda; this is a false claim aimed at insurrection. She also intentionally forged documents using the identifications of people who died and forging signatures of others who did not sign for her."

Last week's bail hearing almost failed to take off after Rwigara's mother requested the court to reschedule on grounds that she was sick and on strong medication.

Hearing adjourned

However, the prosecution argued that the medical letter she provided did not show grounds for her absence in court and urged the judges to continue with the hearing.

After about three hours of consultations, the judges decided that there weren't sufficient grounds to adjourn the trial and ordered its immediate resumption.

After about eight hours, the judges decided to adjourn the hearing to Tuesday this week, where a decision on whether to grant the two women bail is most likely to be made.

Rwigara's younger sister, Anne Rwigara, was released last month and charges against her for inciting public insurrection were dropped.

The three family members were arrested in September, less than a month after the presidential election. Although Rwigara was disqualified from running for the presidency, she continued her criticism of the government in press conferences, which she alleges provided grounds for the arrests in a bid to "shut her up."

Forgery charges attract five to seven years in jail, while inciting insurrection -- a charge that Diane and her mother both face -- attracts 10 to 15 years in jail. Mrs Rwigara is separately charged with promoting sectarian practises, which attracts five to seven years in prison.

The family is also fighting to keep their assets after the Rwanda Revenue Authority said last week that it had begun the process of seizing and auctioning their property in order to recover over Rwf5 billion ($5.8 million) the family owes through tax evasion.

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