The screening exercise of suspects conducted by the National public prosecution Authority (NPPA), national police and Rwanda Investigation Bureau(RIB) concluded on Wednesday with the release of 1, 182 suspects who have been detained in police cells across the country.
The week-long suspect screening exercise started on April 1 until April 8, 2020, intending to identify and release suspects charged with minor offenses in a bid to prevent overcrowding in detention facilities and contain the spread of COVID-19.
The release of the suspects came a day before courts in the country began hearing urgent cases digitially as the COVID-19 measures also meant that courts could not function normally to avoid gathering many people in one place.
According to NPPA, released suspects had committed minor offenses punished with a verdict that could not exceed a six months sentence upon conviction.
Some suspects were released after paying fines while others were directed to report at NPPA every Monday of the week until the court re-opens.
Some of the released suspects had committed minor offenses including fighting in bars, theft, and minor domestic violence cases that can be followed up and resolved without a court trial.
According to Faustin Nkusi, the Spokesperson of NPPA as a precaution measure, only those who have committed serious crimes will be kept in detention.
“We will continue to monitor and follow up on the suspects from their homes until the situation gets better,” Nkusi said.
Chantal Umwizerwa who was detained at Kimironko police station in Gasabo district, Kigali city said it was relieving to be released as she feared for the worst in detention and needed to reunite with her child.
“I was arrested on suspicion of stealing a laptop, I am happy to be temporarily released because I had left my child at home. I have been given a second chance to go back to my family to care of my child. It means that they have trusted me not to jump bail,”
“I will be reporting to NPPA every Monday of the week. I am so thankful for the gesture,” Umwizerwa said.
NPPA warned released suspects against violating directives including failure to report every Monday or committing other crimes that would lead to re-arrest.
The exercise of releasing suspects was conducted countrywide in various district police stations. In the City of Kigali, 96 suspects were released in Gasabo district and 155 in Nyarugenge district.
In Musanze District, 100 suspects were released, Rubavu 61, Karongi 72, Rusizi 86, Nyamagabe 31 and Muhanga district 93 suspects.
Other released suspects are 104 from Gicumbi district, Nyagatare 113, Ngoma 210 and 61 suspects from Huye district.
According to NPPA, the screening of suspects was done thoroughly to avoid releasing suspects with major crimes who can pose a danger in society.
To simplify the screening of suspects, Aimable Havugayiremye, the Prosecutor-General said serious crimes including murder, human trafficking, corruption, defilement, use and distribution of drugs, and suspects who have repeated crimes would not benefit from the measures to decongest jails.
Suspects were divided into three categories in the screening exercise. In category one, prosecutors registered suspects who committed serious offenses like murder, human trafficking, defilement, corruption and use and distribution of drugs, and repeat of offenses.
The suspects in category one did not qualify for release and will wait for trial when the court resumes.
In category two, NPPA, police and RIB team compiled a list of those eligible to pay fine and be released without necessarily being produced in court, when they resume.
For the suspects in category three, the NPPA, police, and RIB compiled a list of suspects and were released on a conditional basis. This means their cases can be followed after the courts resume with suspects being tried without being in detention.
Category three also includes women in detention with babies, teenagers and those that can be released on police bond, after investigating that they do not impose danger on the society.
Suspects who were detained for family disputes and other disagreements that can be solved by reconciliation with the wronged providing grounds for release were also placed in category three. However, such cases remain open.
Other suspects in category three are those whose files lack sufficient evidence.
Appearing before court digitally
In the meantime, on Thursday courts in the country resumed trials digitally, three weeks after all court activities were put on hold. The hearings began with urgent cases.
The digital hearings started with Gasabo Primary Court while Kicukiro Primary Court will also commence next week. According to Harrison Mutabazi, the Spokesperson of the Judiciary, technology-assisted trials are part of the efforts to decongest cells and clear the backlog caused by the lockdown.
“We tested the system and it is working well. We have done it in Gasabo and tomorrow we will do it in Kicukiro and then consider rolling it out countrywide but for now we have started with Kigali,” Mutabazi said.
Via a video link, the Judges sit in the Supreme Court while the suspects appear before cameras at Kigali Metropolitan Station where they interact directly with the judges and prosecutors. However the system is yet to be fully rolled out.
The lockdown is expected to end by April 19 if it is not extended.