The terror trial of 33 individuals linked to the terror outfits ‘P5’ and Rwanda National Congress (RNC) was on Tuesday adjourned to next month after some of the accused individuals requested the court to be given enough time to go through their files.
The Military High Court sitting in Kanombe ruled in favour of postponing the substantive hearing to July 20 to 24 to allow the defendants enough time to prepare their submissions
The decision was also made to allow one of the soldiers involved in the case time to file a case in appropriate courts challenging the conditions he is detained in.
The 33, who include 5 Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) soldiers, are facing charges of formation of, or being part of an irregular armed group or joining it, conspiracy against the established Government or the President of the Republic, maintaining relations with a foreign government with the intent to wage a war and formation of or joining a criminal group.
The group was initially made up of 25 individuals who were led by former RDF Maj (Rtd) Habib Mudathiru, arrested in DRC by Congolese government forces FARDC during operations and handed over to Rwanda but 8 more people, including 5 RDF soldiers and 3 civilians were added into the file.
One of the 5 RDF soldiers is still on the run, meaning that only 32 people appear in court.
In their submissions, Military Prosecutors said there are strong reasons to believe that the two groups, one led by Mudathiru and that of RDF soldiers led by Pt Dieudonné Muhire were working in close collaboration to recruit and encourage soldiers to dessert the army and join armed groups in Eastern DR Congo.
Prosecutors said that Pte Muhire had been promised a higher rank as a Lieutenant if he joined the rebel forces under the ranks of ‘Maj’ Callixte Nsabimana’s National Liberation Front (FLN).
As the panel of Judges, led by Lt Col Bernard Hategekimana opened the hearing, the floor was given to Private Muhire who had filed a complaint in the court about the conditions under which he is jailed, which he said were illegal and denied him his basic rights.
Muhire informed court that he is detained in military barracks in Kanombe instead of being held in a military prison. The court sought to know what the law says on such a complaint, whether it can be heard by the Military High Court or lower courts before it could proceed on ruling on the matter.
Pte Muhire, through his lawyer, said that he is being held in undesirable conditions and requested the court to make sure that it asks that his rights are respected. Among other things he said he has limited access to his lawyers.
The Judges advised Pte Muhire to file the case with lower competent courts or tribunals but the Military High Court had no jurisdiction to hear his complaint unless it got to high court as an appeal.
Involvement of RDF men
It was revealed in court that another RDF soldier wanted in the case, Pt Jean Bosco Ruhinda is still on the run.
Ruhinda, who was in constant touch with Maj (Rtd) Mudathiru, deserted the army and is suspected to have fled to DRC where he joined the RNC/P5 alliance in which he was overseeing communication.
Court was told that Ruhinda was among the first people to join RNC and later the P5 coalition, having deserted the army in 2014 and was among the people who welcomed Maj (Rtd) Mudathiru in DRC as well as other recruits who were mentioned in court.
Away from Ruhinda who is missing, Pte Muhire, whose name was mentioned in court many times, is accused of coordinating activities of the group, talking to different people including Rwandans who were living in Uganda, such as Pacifique Muhire, one of his co-accused, urging them to join armed groups.
Prosecutors said Muhire conspired with the groups to engage in activities to plot for the destabilisation of Rwanda, making false promises to his victims.
During the hearing, Prosecutors explained civilian Muhire’s (Pacifique) links to the groups and his connections with Pte Muhire as well as their activities aimed at recruiting and facilitating people to join the illegal armed groups operating in Eastern DRC.
Pacifique, who was born in Musanze district and was living in Uganda, was arrested in Rwanda when he had illegally crossed into the country to facilitate other recruits who wanted to escape the country through porous borders to join FLN.
“What we know so far is that Pte Muhire contacted Muhire Pacifique and promised him to join RNC and his documents were shared with a one Noble Marara. He, Muhire, a civilian was promised that he would be earning $5,000 every month for his work which included recruiting more people to join the groups and facilitating their movement,” the Prosecutors said.
Muhire, who had a motorcycle, had a task of facilitating movement of the recruits. On the fateful day, Muhire who was living in Uganda went with his namesake to the Rwanda-Uganda border to pick Corporal Jean Bosco Dusabimana, who was also deserting the army to join the groups.
The duo had not figured out that Corporal Dusabimana had already been nabbed and their communication was monitored to facilitate the arrest of other people involved. As soon as the duo crossed over, they were arrested.
On his part, Muhire (Pacifique) said that he had not joined the terror groups but he had been told that he would be paid Ugx350,000 for transport services. He also apologised for his actions and begged for leniency since he was after making money.
During the session, court played audios of Pte Muhire giving out information on the location of RDF soldiers to the FLN attackers, which he got through his RDF contacts.
Prosecutors also presented audio evidence of Muhire’s communication with Marara, assuring him that he is not “[Boniface] Rucagu’s agent”. Marara had not trusted Pte Muhire yet.
The audios, which also include exchanges between Pte Muhire and Corporal Dusabimana show that the two soldiers communicated regularly and were aware of the FLN attacks in Nyungwe Forest
In the audios, the two talk about the planned attacks and their readiness to be part of the attacks and what they will gain from joining the fighting groups, though they did not sound optimistic that the attacks would yield something serious.
In the audios, the duo is heard discussing on RDF locations in Rusizi, Nyungwe, Karongi and in strategic locations like tea plantations, something the Prosecutors said was aimed at facilitating attacks on RDF bases.
Among other charges, Dusabimana is accused of spilling state secrets that could endanger the security of the country.
Prosecutors said that for a soldier still in service, giving away professional secrets that endangered the safety of the armed forces, committed a serious crime.
Both men denied that the voices were theirs, pointing out that the onus is on the prosecutors to prove that the voices are real.
The duo had planned to link up to join FNL, a breakaway faction of RNC, a fighting wing of Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a group which was born out of a merger of different dissident organizations including that of Paul Rusesabagina.
FLN launched several attacks in South Western Rwanda in 2018 which were repulsed by RDF. Nsabimana, the self-proclaimed spokesperson and leader of the group would later be arrested and brought to Rwanda at the end of April last year.
He is currently undergoing trial, facing 16 terror-related charges, including forming an illegal armed group and launching attacks which claimed dozens of people.
Prosecutors told court that Pte Muhire had been given a task to recruit people internally and incite people against the government and the army.
It was said that upon deserting and crossing into Uganda, he met his namesake who had a moto, who he started working with.
He also continued to communicate with colleagues back home, including those who were still serving in RDF such as Corporal Viateur Kayiranga and Pte Champagnat Igitego, two of his colleagues who he had gone to a peacekeeping mission in Juba, South Sudan, in 2017.
Pte Muhire knew the duo very well since they originated from the same district and wanted to use the opportunity to convince them to join the armed group.
He also hoped to convince Corporal Dusabimana to join. Dusabimana was arrested with a one Richard Nzafashwanimana who was facilitating him to escape. They were nabbed in the act.
Several other individuals recruited by Pte Muhire include Pte Dan Ndagijimana and Corporal Phocas Mudatenguha who have since eluded arrest.
Prosecutors contend that Pte Muhire was actively involved in the activities of FLN, which is accused of killing dozens of citizens in Nyabimata sector, Nyaruguru district in the 2018 attacks.
Pte Muhire became the centre of focus after Prosecutors said that he was the one coordinating and recruiting his colleagues into the rebel group which carried out terror attacks on the Rwandan territory.
The soldier, who was based in Mukamira Barracks is also accused of fraud after he falsified the signature of a friend, a fellow soldier, Pte Jean Bunani, in 2017, and withdrew Rwf1.9m from his account in Urwego Bank. He used another civilian Cyrille Ndizeye to withdraw the money which they shared.
He was arrested and detained but he escaped and found his way to Uganda where he started coordinating with RNC operatives allied to Kayumba Nyamwasa and FDLR elements before he went to DRC via Burundi to join forces allied to Marara and Kayumba.
Corporal Dusabimana on the other hand, who was deployed in the 9th battalion in the northern province, along with Corporal Kayiranga and Pte Igitego (who both went to a peacekeeping mission with Muhire), stayed in touch with Pte Muhire. Among other things, they talked about how he can facilitate them to flee and join FLN.
Pte Muhire regularly updated them on the presence of FLN forces in Nyungwe and went on to add the latter two on a Whatsapp group known as ‘Abataripfana’ where they shared information on planned attacks while the RDF men regularly updated them on the position and preparedness of RDF.
On Pte Igitego, Military Prosecutors said he faces additional charges of forgery and the genocide ideology.
He is said to have kept in touch with Muhire through Facebook and among the evidences prosecutors have, he used derogatory terms and often told Pte Muhire that “I am praying for you often, thanks for doing what you do” and referred to government officials or RDF officers as ‘abarezi’.
To facilitate, Pte Igitego to flee, Pte Muhire connected to a civilian identified as Richard Nzafashwanimana, a moto rider who was based in Burera district and Pte Igitego said that he knows the guy.
“He is the fast-moving moto guy who helps those who have broken the shackles to get out of the country,” Igitego said.
He also started using extreme and derogatory terms, referring to the government, his friends and leaders in the army, describing them as ‘dishonest’ people, who he would rather not work with and wanted to join groups fighting the government.
He also falsified identification documents, referring to himself in different names continuously made tribal and inciteful words Prosecutors said do not befit someone still in service.
The ‘moto guy’ was also later arrested and faces charges of conspiracy to join an armed group, treason, conspiring in acts of war against the established Government or the President of the Republic and facilitating criminal activities.
He is said to have facilitated many people including Pte Muhire to flee the country through Uganda using shortcuts which he was well versed with. Prosecutors said he facilitated other RDF soldiers including Dan Nshimiyimana, Phocas Mudatenguha and other civilians who regularly used him.
At the time of his arrest, he was planning to help Corporal Dusabimana who had already been arrested and facilitated investigations to burst the circle of all the individuals in RDF as well as civilians who had been convinced to join FNL.
After lengthy deliberations and assessing other complexities in the case, especially the complaint filed by Pte Muhire on the conditions of his detention, the court postponed the hearing to July 20, when it will resume in substance.
The Judge said for the 4 days, till July 24 (with a break on July 22), all the accused should come ready to respond to the charges and evidence against them, with no expected challenges emerging.
“You should all read your files, liaise with the lawyers and come when you are ready. We want to conclude this case because it is taking too long yet we have other cases to handle,” the Judge said, directing Military Police to ensure that the accused have access to their lawyers to avoid further delays.