Rwanda

British MPs Pile Pressure on Kagame to Free Col Byabagamba, Rusagara

Five British lawmakers have appealed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame to release the detained former Republican Guard commander, Tom Byabagamba and his in-law Frank Rusagara, saying their health was deteriorating rapidly and urgently needed specialized medical attention.

“We are troubled that Rwanda has imposed disproportionate sentences on individuals who are suffering from serious health issues in poor prison conditions,” the MPs wrote this week, adding, “Humanitarian factors call for Mr. Byabagamba and Mr. Rusagara’s release.”

The two men were arrested in August 2014 and charged with “spreading rumors” and “tarnishing the image of the country and government.”

ChimpReports understands that at the time, Byabagamba, who had served as head of Kagame’s security detail for many years before rising to the position of Republican Guard boss, had fallen out with the president.

For Rusagara, who had retired from the army, was reportedly taped by a serving army officer, as he criticized the leadership of President Kagame. This occurred at the Golf Course club in Kigali.

Rusagara reportedly said he disagreed with the way the country was being run.

This information was quickly picked by intelligence who later arrested him.

Kagame was informed that while on a United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Byabagamba did not render the military-style hand salute during the playing of the Rwandan national anthem.

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This, to the Rwandan establishment, meant Byabagamba was no longer loyal to his country. But informed sources say he could have been a victim of intrigue in the armed forces.

Mr Byabagamba, a brother of exiled Rwandan activist, David Himbara, was charged with “concealing evidence” and “undermining the national flag.”

The British MPs said the charges “appear related to private criticisms Mr. Byabagamba and Mr. Rusagara made of the government.”

The lawmakers observed that despite Mr Rusagara being a civilian, the two men were tried jointly in the Kanombe Military High Court.

On 31 March 2016, there were convicted on all charges and sentenced to 21 years and 20 years in prison, respectively.

Both men appealed their sentences, however that process did not begin until earlier this year and is still ongoing.

“Both men have already been imprisoned for five years and are reportedly in poor health; Mr. Rusagara suffers from an enlarged prostate and arthritis and Mr. Byabagamba has two artificial discs, after having major surgery on his back,” the MPs’ letter reads in part.

“The poor conditions they are detained in have exacerbated their health issues. Furthermore, Mr. Rusagara’s wife unfortunately passed away while he was imprisoned.”

Suffering

The MPs’ call comes against the backdrop of mounting pressure from international organisations and church leaders across the world, asking Kagame to free the jailed Rwandans.

A UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the detention of the duo to be in violation of international law.

Members of the Holy Trinity, West Hampstead (The Lighthouse Church) in Britain where Rusagara was a member recently held a church service to pray for him.

The UK media reported that Rusagara’s family had been left with a loss of income, and Mrs Rusagara died of cancer in 2016.

Brigadier Rusagara had not been allowed to see her or return to look after his children. The congregation had supported the family, including the youngest son, Ezra, who began his university studies last year.

UK MPs said while they commended Rwanda’s progress over the last three decades, particularly the strides it has made in creating a more inclusive society that has drawn in marginalized populations, Rusagara’s young children have been without parents for several years now and do not want to see their father suffer in prison any longer.

“Releasing Mr. Byabagamba and Mr. Rusagara will demonstrate to the United Kingdom and the world that Rwanda is compassionate towards ill prisoners who have already served lengthy sentences,” said MPs in a statement signed by the Baroness D’Souza, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Dr. Matthew Offord, Ivan Lewis and Rosie Duffield.

Rwanda is planning to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2020 at the Kigali Convention Centre during the week starting 22 June.  Leaders from all 53 Commonwealth countries are expected to attend.

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