6 December 2018

Rwanda: Why the Rwigaras Were Acquitted

Photo: Nadege Imbabazi/New Times
Friends and family join the Rwigaras in celebration after they were acquitted.

The High Court dropped all charges against Adeline Mukangemanyi Rwigara and Diane Rwigara, citing insufficient evidence tabled by prosecution to conclusively pin them on charges they stood accused.

The duo alongside four others who were tried in absentia, were accused of inciting insurrection among the population, discrimination and sectarian practices while Diane Rwigara faced separate forgery related charges

Reading the ruling, the three-person High Court bench ruled that the submissions by prosecution and the subsequent evidence presented did to some extent pin the accused, but fell short of the beyond reasonable threshold, which automatically favours the accused.

Both women, who have been out on bail, were present with their lawyers in the fully-packed afternoon court session.

According to the judges, much of the case was built on audio recordings that were made and received by Mukangemanyi and circulated to different contacts via social media platform WhatsApp.

"However, prosecution failed to prove how these audios would incite the public because they were intended for individual contacts. The right charge would probably be conspiracy to incite but this was never on the charge sheet," ruled one of the judges.

On the charge against Diane Rwigara concerning inciting the public against an established government, prosecutors relied on excerpts from a news conference she hosted ahead of her unsuccessful bid in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the verdict, the pronouncements she made at the time were potentially harmful and unverified propaganda against the government, however prosecution did not show the intent to incite the public.

On the charge of forgery, Diane was accused of faking signatures while collecting the mandatory 600 individual endorsements required of an independent candidate. The court, however, ruled that there was no conclusive evidence that the accused had personally forged the signatures.

"Court finds that much as authenticity of some of the signatures presented by the accused was called into question by forensic experts , the burden of proof was on prosecution to prove the accused actually forged the signatures," the verdict reads, adding that any doubt in the evidence automatically favours the accused.

Court therefore acquitted the two of all charges on the ground that the evidence supplied by prosecution was insufficient.

Shortly after the verdict, prosecution said they respect the decision by the judges but will review the ruling and determine the way forward.

"The prosecution respects court decisions. We will review the details of today's judgment in the case of Diane Rwigara et al and consider our options," reads the tweet from the official handle of the National Public Prosecution Authority.

The Prosecution respects court decisions. We will review details of today's judgment in the case of Diane RWIGARA et al, and consider our options.

-- Rwanda Prosecution (@ProsecutionRw) December 6, 2018

If they so wish, prosecution can appeal against the verdict at the recently instituted Appeals Court.

Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline were arrested in September 2017 but were later in October this year granted bail.

The decision to grant them bail was premised on the fact that prosecution had completed investigations in the case, and therefore there was no opportunity for the accused to tamper with evidence.

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