What to expect as Rusesabagina returns to court
Paul Rusesabagina will return to court on Friday, September 25, according to sources from the judiciary, where he is expected to appeal against a ruling remanding him for 30 days.
The appeal is expected to be heard by Nyarugenge Intermediate Court.
Kicukiro Primary Court last week ruled to remand Rusesabagina for 30 days, saying that there was serious incriminating evidence pinning him.
He was sent on remand to give the prosecution time to conclude the investigation before the substantive trial begins.
Immediately the judge ruled to deny bail application last week, Rusesabagina announced he would appeal.
He has since been charged with 13 counts related to leading and funding an armed group.
Following the court decision, Rusesabagina was last Friday moved from the Remera-based Kigali Metropolitan Police headquarters to Nyarugenge Prison, commonly known as Mageragere.
According to the RCS Commissioner General, George Rwigamba, Rusesabagina, has a private self-contained room with access to medical attention and other social amenities.
“He’s living the normal prison life, he has his own room, self-contained with toilet and running water. He has a bed with bedsheets and a mosquito net, and he’s getting his food and his medication,” Rwigamba told The New Times.
Rwigamba added that the suspect has met his lawyers while in prison and is able to speak to his family.
Rusesabagina is being represented by two lawyers, Emeline Nyembo and David Rugaza whom he chose from a list of pro bono lawyers provided by the Rwanda Bar Association.
When the suspect comes to court to Friday, he will most likely be dressed, for the first time, in a pink prison uniform preserved for inmates.
The pink uniform is standard attire for inmates who are yet to be convicted. If found guilty and are convicted, they switch to orange uniforms.
Alphonse Muleefu Ph.D., a criminal law expert and University lecturer argues that the reason that the court chose to try him while in custody is probably because there was substantial evidence to suspect that Rusesabagina might have committed the crimes that he is being accused of.
“That is not to say that the case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is responsible, but it is to say that given the appearance of the evidence, he might have committed the alleged crimes. It could also be that there is a likelihood that this person might flee justice or tamper with the process of collecting evidence,” Muleefu said.
Indeed, last week, presiding judge Dorothy Yankurije said that the court analysed the merits of each of the 13 charges and found that there were serious grounds to suspect Rusesabagina committed the crimes he is accused of.
The merits were advanced by the prosecution during the pre-trial hearing. Prosecutors told the court that they had documents showing a trail of money the suspect sent to armed groups that have carried out attacks in Rwanda. The documents were submitted to the court.
However, Muleefu highlighted that the decision to be tried while in preventive detention can be appealed on multiple grounds such as medical.
“I think one of the reasons they [Rusesabagina’s lawyers] will advance is the fact that his health condition might not be good, so by keeping him in prison it might deteriorate his condition,” he noted.
In any way, Muleefu added, that will go along with the court’s further assessment of whether the available evidence leaves the impression that the person might have committed the crimes.
What’s being examined currently is not the evidence on the crimes that were committed.
“It is the assessment on whether given the available information and whether the prosecution has grounds to keep him in prison as they consolidate their evidence for trial,” Muleefu, who is also a practicing lawyer, said.
Charges against Rusesabagina
Rusesabagina is the political head of FLN, an armed group that made several incursions into Rwanda in 2018, killing at least nine people, injuring many others, looting and burning property.
The attacks took place in south-western districts of Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe and Nyamasheke districts all in the vicinity of Nyungwe National Park.
Some of the fighters in the militia group are in custody and their trial is already ongoing.
These include two successive spokespersons of the outfit; Callixte Nsabimana a.k.a Sankara whose arrest was confirmed in April last year and Herman Nsengimana who was presented to the media in January this year.
They are all battling terror charges where Nsabimana has already pleaded guilty. In court last week, Nsabimana requested that his case be joined with that of Rusesabagina, because, as the political leader of FLN, he had been his commander.
Rusesabagina’s charge sheet includes the creation and being part of an irregular armed group, financing terrorism, terror activities for political gains, conspiracy to commit terror activities, commanding terror acts, and being part of a terrorist group.
He also faces the count of conspiracy and encouraging others to join a terror group, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to armed robbery, conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to aggravated assault, and conspiracy to conscript children in an armed group.