Rwanda: Callixte Nsabimana Asks for More Lenient Sentence

Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara and his lawyer have asked court for a more lenient penalty that is lighter than the 25-year jail term that the prosecutors prescribed for him.

Nsabimana is being tried in connection to activities of the FLN militia which launched several attacks on Rwandan soil between 2018 and 2019, in which at least nine civilian lives were lost, others wounded in addition to destruction of property.

He is specifically charged with over ten counts including: forming an illegal armed group, being part of a terror group, terrorism based on political motives, conspiracy and encouraging others to commit terror, murder as an act of terrorism, genocide denial and minimizing the Genocide against the Tutsi, among others.

Last week, prosecutors said that Nsabimana's alleged crimes deserved life sentence but put into account the fact that he was cooperative throughout his trial and was remorseful for what he did, which prompted them to seek a 25-year sentence.

However, responding to the proposed penalty, Nsabimana's lawyer Moise Nkundabarashi told court on Wednesday, June 23 that such heavy punishment should be given to main authors yet his client was an accomplice in many of the alleged crimes.

"My client is being charged with crimes like murder as an act of terror and armed robbery. This attracts heavier punishments. In fact, earlier, prosecutors told court that had there been no mitigating circumstances, they would have requested for a life imprisonment," he said.

"However, the evidence - both circumstantial and material - that was presented before this court or even my client's plea shows he was an accomplice. That way, he should get a lesser penalty," he added.

Nkundabarashi noted that Nsabimana has throughout the trial maintained the truth to the judges, where he, among other things admitted to his role in the FLN militia in which he worked as the second vice president and spokesperson. This, he said should mitigate the penalty more.

In fact, Nkundabarashi said that if mitigating circumstances are put into context, his client should get a 10-year jail term or even less.

On his part, Nsabimana told court that he never took part in the planning of the attacks that the FLN militia launched against civilians in Southern Rwanda.

He also maintained that MRCD, which he co-founded with Paul Rusesabagina and others did not create FLN, the militia group as alleged by prosecution, but rather it was an outfit that was already in place.

"These fighters led by 'Gen' Wilson Irategeka had splintered from FDLR as far back as 2016, way before MRCD was created. When we were creating the coalition, they brought the fighters as their bargaining chip. So it is not true that I created an irregular armed group," Nsabimana said.

FLN, he said, belonged to CNRD, which was one of the entities that formed MRCD.

Nsabimana once again sought forgiveness for the crimes he committed.

"I want to unreservedly seek forgiveness from the families whose loved ones were killed, the Rwandan community in general and the President of the Republic in particular.

I believe that this country is built on the foundation of forgiveness. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future and I am willing to change so I can make a contribution to my country's development," he said.

On the same day, Herman Nsengimana, who had replaced Sankara as FLN spokesperson when the latter was arrested presented his final submission in regard to the 20-year jail penalty that prosecution proposed for him.

He once again admitted to the charges being part of an illegal armed group (FLN), but he denied being part of a terror group, saying that when he joined FLN, he did not know that it had to do anything with terrorism.

He said that court should use its discretionary powers to give him a punishment commensurate with the crimes committed, but also putting into account mitigation circumstances in his case.

Nsengimana also called for fairness, saying that some fellow fighters who were captured with him in DR Congo were rehabilitated and reintegrated, asking why they were also not brought in court to account for the same crimes he stands accused.

"When I was extradited from the DRC to Rwanda, I was together with about 400 other people who had been part of FLN and MRCD. But they are not being prosecuted like me," he said.

"Good enough I am here, where justice is. If you deem it fit for me to serve 20 years in jail, I will serve it," he said.

He also made a passionate plea for forgiveness from Rwandans, before he broke down and cried.

The case will continue on Thursday, June 24.

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