Rwanda: Former Rwandan President Guilty of Treason, Sentenced to 15 Years

Kigali — Rwanda's highest court on Friday upheld a lower court's conviction of the country's first post-genocide president Pasteur Bizimungu and also convicted him of treason.

The Supreme Court sentenced the ex-president to 25 years in jail of which he will serve 15.

Bizimungu 55, was president of Rwanda from the end of the genocide in 1994 to early 2000 when he resigned after falling out with his powerful vice-president Paul Kagame. The latter went on to succeed him.

Bizimungu's relationship with the government deteriorated further when he attempted to set up a political party shortly after his resignation. In 2001 together with his former minister of transport and six associates, Bizimungu was arrested and charged.

In 2004, a provincial court convicted Bizimungu of embezzlement of public funds, fomenting ethnic hatred and creating a criminal gang. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of former transport minister Charles Ntakirutinka but it acquitted all the other six defendants. Judges dismissed the testimony of a lead witness whose accusations mainly targeted the six.

During his tenure, Bizimungu, an ethnic Hutu, was seen by some as a symbol of reconciliation in a government dominated by the minority Tutsis.

At the centre of the incitement charges against the former president is an interview he gave to the monthly magazine, Jeune Afrique L'intelligent in 2001.

Bizimungu was quoted as saying that if marginalization of ethnic Hutus in Rwanda continued, "Hutus will take up arms and expel Tutsis from Rwanda".

The former president has admitted to making the remarks but he argued that he had a right to express his opinions and in any case, that shouldn't have been considered a criminal offence.

Ethnicity is a deeply touchy subject in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide in which about one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

The former president has likened his plight to that of Nelson Mandela in apartheid-era of in South Africa--a parallel rejected by Rwandan authorities.

Human rights groups have criticized Rwanda's judiciary as lacking independence from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

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