Human Rights Watch has denounced a Rwandan Court of Appeal decision to uphold conviction of Colonel Tom Byabagamba, the former head of Presidential Guards and de-facto vice president, and his brother in law, retired Brigadier General Frank Rusagara, a former Military attaché to the United Kingdom.
On December 27, 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the two be jailed for 15years and stripped of their military ranks.
According to the statement by HRW, the Rwandan Court of Appeal decision on December 27, 2019 upholding the conviction of two former military officials is a violation of freedom of speech
“Although the court reduced their sentences to 15 years each, it does not mitigate convictions for criticizing the authorities and government policies or the use of unreliable evidence in their trial,” reads part of the statement.
In addition, the rights body is concerned about reports of ill-treatment and inadequately treated health problems in detention.
Since Rwanda is set to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June this year and will include discussions on governance and rule of law, HRW says international partners should raise concerns about targeting critics and curtailing freedom of speech.
“Before they agree to attend the meeting, Rwanda’s international partners should raise their concerns with the Rwandan government about the deliberate targeting of critics both inside and outside the country, and its chilling effect.”
Byabagamba and Rugasira were on March 31, 2016 convicted of inciting insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image and sentenced to 21 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
Prosecution also accused the two of alleging state involvement in the assassinations of opponents, and, in one particular readout by the Military prosecutors, Rusagara apparently described Rwanda as a “banana republic” and said, referring to the President, “our guy is finished”.
At the same trial Sergeant François Kabayiza was sentenced to 5 years and a fine of 500,000 Rwandan francs (US$650 at the time) for concealing evidence. He has since completed his sentence.
On November 4, six British parliament members wrote a letter to President Paul Kagame expressing concern about the sentences and pressing for Byabagamba and Rusagara’s release on humanitarian grounds.
“We commend 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. However, we are troubled that Rwanda has imposed disproportionate sentences on individuals who are suffering from serious health issues in poor prison conditions,” the legislators wrote.