Are military officers Byabagamba and Rusagara guilty or innocent? Verdict is today
It exceeded the public expectations upon seeing Kanombe military High court hearing a case of some high ranking military officers openly and accessible to both the populace and press.
According to military prosecution, one Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara was intentionally and consistently spreading enemy propaganda, thereby acting as their agent.
The Prosecution explained earlier to the judges that the retired General tried to convince Military Senior Officers both active and fellow retired ones to join his ideology aimed at overthrowing the Government.
â€œRwanda is a police state, a banana republic, RNC is growing strong, Kagame is a dictator, our Guy is finished (President Paul Kagame), the President is a liar, Government of Rwanda is unpopularâ€ the accused was recorded spreading such slander.
As for another senior in service Col Tom Byabagamba, the Military Prosecution was charging him with four counts including; Inciting insurrection and/or trouble amongst the population, tarnishing the image of the country/government contrary to Article 660; concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offence contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code; and contempt of national flag and emblems contrary to Article 532 of the Penal Code.
There was another suspect, a retired junior officer Sgt Kabayiza FranÃ§ois, a former driver of Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara who was accused of concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offence contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code.
The three accused soldiers, Col. Tom Byabagamba, Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara and Sgt (Demobilized) Kabayiza FranÃ§ois appeared before Military Judges at the Military Tribunal in Nyamirambo on 26th September 2014 for pre-trial detention proceedings.
Military prosecution told the Court that after the arrest of Brig. Gen. (Rtd) Frank Rusagara, Col Tom Byabagamba received from Sgt Kabayiza Francois two pistols of Brig. Gen. (Rtd) Frank Rusagara, which the Colonel hid until the investigations team intervened to recover the fire arms.
Some other evidence unveiled against Col Tom Byabagamba consisted inter alia in SMS he sent through BBM to one of his military colleagues, commenting on an online newspaper (the lancet.com), in a way spreading rumors and negative propaganda against the Government of Rwanda with intention to tarnish its image.
Byabagamba admitted to have been contacted to give details on the pistols; allegedly saying in court that he had handed in the said firearms. His lawyers also said he had no intention to hide the guns and willingly reported them to RDF after he was contacted.
Other claims according to the Prosecution; Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara mobilized the officers to follow the Radio Itahuka of RNC as one way of adhering to RNC ideology, communicating with its pillars whereas one of them was mentioned as Kayumba Nyamwasa.
Rusagara accepted he had two pistols which he said he had acquired them as gifts from South Africa and Israel Military industries. He rather was hesitant to explain whether the mentioned arms were registered and reasons he did not give them back at the time he retired from the Army.
Lawyers of defendants requested the Court to release on bail their clients alleging that the Prosecution failed to present any strong evidence against them.
The Military Prosecution however requested a 30 day provisional detention for the accused because of the gravity of charges against them on the ground that their release would jeopardize investigations.
The Court then ruled that it was going to examine both sides â€˜arguments and give its decision on 30th September 2014.
Captain Faustin Nzakamwita, leading the prosecution team said the accused spread rumors and negative propaganda against his own country through email correspondences with some people, including colleagues and members of his family.
â€œMost of the documents were picked from the internet by Brig. Gen Rusagara emphasizing negative content some of which propagated to the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) ideology,â€ he said.
Captain Nzakamwita further stated that one piece of news published by the Radio France International (RFI) that talked about the downing of a plane that was carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana was sent to a certain Mukimbiri when the accused was still in service.
In normal circumstances, particularly in countries where rule of law is some puzzle; such charges based on evidence presented and role of the accused in the country would have been liable to either life imprisonment, and/or death penalty but Rwanda Justice system the unexpected to most observers.
Nzakamwita added that the retired General disseminated articles published on hostile websites to Rwanda with the intention of inciting the public.
The prosecutor told court that such acts amount to alarming the population with intention to cause trouble on national territory which is punishable under article 463 of the Penal Code. The Military high court was patient and transparent; acting rather as a civilian court of law; according to close observers.
Granted opportunity of defence
In his defence, Rusagara stated that criminalizing access to information, reading and sharing news without further proof of intention behind was unjust, at least with respect to his former line of duties.
â€œAs someone who was a Military AttachÃ© in the United Kingdom, such were our daily preoccupations, we were supposed to read all sources of information and most of these emails I totally dislikedâ€ The accused proudly justified.
â€œWe were faced with false information that was coming from negative forces, thus sharing such information does not mean spreading negative propaganda,â€ he said.
His legal counsel, Pierre Celestin Buhuru, said that the prosecution would need to provide evidence of the malicious intentions of his client, who he said besides sharing the news pieces had never commented on such emails.
On the other hand, â€œThe prosecution should show constructive elements and facts behind what they called negative intention when sending a mere link in mail exchanges, they should justify it beyond reasonable doubt that there were negative intentions behind,â€ said the legal counsel.
Granted more time
The trial was adjourned to a full week ahead when the court would hear charges of possession of illegal firearms which Rusagara ha allegedly shared with his former driver, retired Staff Sergeant Francois Kabayiza, and senior colleague Colonel Tom Byabagamba.
Colonel Tom Byabagamba, being accused of espionage defended his case saying; he is a Rwandan officer and by virtue of his position he could not have betrayed his country.
He made the remarks while appearing before the Military High court in Kanombe, where he was being tried over rather terminal allegations of defaming the president, attempting a coup and inciting violence.
The accused Colonel, a former chief of presidential security, with his intact ranks appeared for trial in army uniform. The phenomena indicated judicial impartiality in the Rwandaâ€™s Military justice system, say observers.
Observers from both ordinary Rwandans and elites who either attended the trial or followed on Radio and Television were in disbelieve; they further blamed the Military court saying it was unnecessary for the system to expose what they called army secrets to the public.
On the allegations of espionage, Byabagamba said that the witness against him are all lies and if he had wanted to do so, he would have done it while serving in other positions in the United Nations forces such as UNAMID.
Another military officer released
The High court of Rwanda sentenced retired Captain David Kabuye to five months in jail and ordered for his immediate release since he had already served more than five months behind bars.
Upon his release, Kabuye was received by his wife and his close family amid jubilation after the court made the announcement on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.
The latter had been implicated among his comrades including the earlier mentioned as Brig. Gen. Frank Rusagara, Col. Tom Byabagamba on charges of espionage, obstructing of justice, and possession of fire arms among others.
He had been arrested and imprisoned in August 2014, served six months in jail and was later re-arrested in March 2015; facing other charges including illegally possession of a firearm and inciting the public against government. Not far different from his colleagues but was released; again contrary to expectations of many.
The Court dropped the charges and only charged use of abusive language in public and exempted him from paying a court fine, since he was tried while behind bars.
Court adjourns trial again?
The only/rare time when observing civilians closely following such a military officialsâ€™ trial said â€œthis is very boringâ€. The trial was adjourned to another week all in the name of providing ample time for defense lawyers to go through each file as to also gather more reasons for their valuable clientele.
Apart from what is conceptually common when prosecutors, Judge or lawyers plead for adjournment; the accused revealed they were rather enjoying the freedom of speech even in the military high court just as soon as the trial began.
Byabagambaâ€™s lawyer, Valery Gakunzi, at some point asked the court to order for the immediate release of his client, saying that grounds for his detention did not hold water.
All suspects instead pleaded not guilty and quickly asked for adjournment citing personal reasons which were not even clarified; amidst the trials most of the time; accused ones exchanged angry words with witnesses, exposed some information that the ordinary public referred to as top secret and unnecessary exposure.
Reputable names are unexpectedly mentioned as being involved in those charges, families, friendship and relatives both known and unknown prior to arguments were brought up.
Some accused officers connected the hostile network to some internal relations and pointed an index finger to powerful individuals trying to pull them into the trouble
Today is when Rwandans will know what fate holds for the three soldiers.