Hotel Rwanda ‘hero’ Paul Rusesabagina on Friday appeared in Nyarugenge Intermediate Court where he was challenging a decision by Kicukiro Primary Court, last week, to put him on remand for 30 days, pending trial.
The 66-year old arrived at the court at 8:40am clad in the pink prison uniform, aboard a Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) double cabin, suggesting that he has already been moved to Mageragere RCS facility.
The hearing kicked off with Rusesabagina being given an opportunity to state the reasons for the appeal. The protagonist of the controversial movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ told the court that he was not in good health.
His Lawyer David Rugaza, said that from the outset, the Kicukiro District Court had no jurisdiction to try his client because he had to be tried in his area of residence, which is where he bought a plot of land in Nyarutarama, Gasabo District.
Rugaza raised the two arguments, which were previously overruled by Kicukiro Primary Court, including claiming that Rwandan courts have no jurisdiction to try Rusesabagina, since he is not a Rwandan citizen.
Rusesabagina’s lawyers argue that the charges against their client are irrelevant, since Rusesabagina is not a Rwandan and did not commit crimes on Rwandan soil. Rugaza said the Kicukiro court had not commented (even though it did) on whether it had jurisdiction to hear the charges against Rusesabagina or not.
“We urge this Court to confirm that the Kicukiro Primary Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, as it was based on illegal reasons,” he said. Rugaza said that from 1996 to date Rusesabagina is not Rwandan, and had not been in Rwanda from 1996 to August 2020.
He further claimed that pursuant to Article 11 of the 2012-2018 Code of Criminal Procedure, the convicted person must have committed the crime in Rwanda, adding that the law did not exist when the alleged crimes were committed in 2018.
Rusesabagina was given an opportunity to clarify his citizenship claims and he said that he moved to Belgium in 1996 and surrendered all his documents to the European country. He said that for three years he was stateless and was a United Nations orphan, until he was granted citizenship.
Regarding obtaining Belgian citizenship, Rusesabagina was asked if he denounced his Rwandan nationality or if it was revoked and his lawyer said that since Rwanda did not allow double nationality at the time, he immediately lost his Rwandan nationality when he got citizenship in another country.
The argument was previously dismissed by court, which said that there was proof that he was Rwandan by birth, as he attested when he was read his profile, while Prosecutors argued that even if he was a foreigner, he would be held accountable for crimes committed on Rwandan soil.
Change of Heart
Rusesabagina also attempted to distance himself from the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), whose armed wing, National Liberation Forces (NLF), is accused of waging war on the Rwandan government, saying that MRCD is a coalition of many parties and the NLF was an independent organization.
Previously in court Rusesabagina did not deny financing NLF but he pointed out that he didn’t know that their activities would result in the killing of innocent Rwandans. He claimed that what he said earlier was misconstrued to suggest that he admitted to the crimes, despite making the confession in court.
He claimed that Prosecution views MRCD as one party yet it is a coalition and he only headed one aspect of the forum, which was diplomacy.
He claimed that the other arms of the coalition were headed by other people, including Gen. Wilson Irategeka, who headed the military wing and Faustin Twagiramungu, who is the political spokesperson.
Last week, Rusesabagina admitted in court to have sent Irategeka, the leader of the FDLR breakaway faction -the National Council for the Democratic Renewal (CNRD), money amounting to $3,000 but said that it was just ‘support out of kindness’.
Rusesabagina told the court that NLF, which is accused of launching attacks on the south western part of Rwanda, killing at least 9 people, injuring scores and looting properties, was an independent organisation, which he had nothing to do with, despite earlier indicating he knew the terror outfit.
During the hearing, Rusesabagina also tried to distance himself from the former NLF Spokesperson, ‘Maj’ Callixte ‘Sankara’ Nsabimana, who is also facing terrorism-related charged separately, stating that he was the one in charge of the activities of the armed group, not himself.
Prosecutors say they obtained evidence from Belgium, of Rusesabagina financing the outfit, including money transfer records.
The defendant was asked to elucidate more on the matter in line with all the evidence presented by Prosecution, clearly indicating his full involvement and Rusesabagina said that Prosecution should corroborate what he said with the documents in its possession seized from his house in Belgium, regarding his role.
Asked about the audios and videos of him proclaiming war, he pointed out that their mission was to attract the attention of the Government of Rwanda to the plight of Rwandan refugees who were scattered in camps in different countries such as Zambia and Malawi.
“The intention of creating FNL was not to engage in terrorism. We wanted to draw the attention of the Government of Rwanda and the international community to the plight of refugees,” he said.
His lawyer said that they don’t recognize the audios because Prosecution is yet to share them while his other lawyer Emeline Nyembo said that Rusesabagina’s rights were violated during the process of arrest and the time he was presented and these violations were not taken into consideration.
She said Rusesabagina was arrested on August 28 but questioned two days later on August 30, yet the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) statement shows that it was made on August 31 when he was presented to the media.
“What is clear to us is that the primary court ignored the concern we had raised that some of the incriminating evidence presented by prosecution had not been shared with us. We raised a number of issues which where were not addressed by the court,”
“There was enough evidence to suggest that Prosecution did not follow through as per the requirements of the criminal procedure, which would have been reason enough for the court to ignore the submissions of Prosecution and release our client on bail,” Nyembo said.
Lawyer Rugaza said that while Prosecution says that Rusesabagina confessed supporting armed groups which attacked Rwanda during interrogation, the testimony cannot be found in his file.
On charges of conspiracy to incite terrorism and inciting others to commit terrorism, Rugaza said the Kicukiro Lower Court based radio broadcasts aired on Ubumwe Radio, an online propaganda radio, yet the person who aired those broadcasts is available.
Speaking about the radio which regularly aired MRCD/NLF propaganda, Rusesabagina said that he knew Esperance Mukashema from way back and he was the one paying her when she was working on the radio, for a period he doesn’t remember.
When Prosecution took the floor, the Prosecutor dismissed Rusesabagina’s argument that he has ill health, stating that up to this point he has not failed to receive good medical care and he will continue to receive it in detention. Rusesabagina indeed affirmed that he has been receiving good care since he arrived and that he has been given all the necessities in his cell.
The Prosecutor further said Rusesabagina’s alleged crimes were committed between 2018 and 2019 and that cannot be separated from the MRCD/NLF activities, since he was the known active leader of the outfits at least until June 2019 when the armed terror outfit attacked Rwanda.
Regarding his arrest and court jurisdiction, the Prosecutor said that Rusesabagina was arrested at Kigali International Airport, and that he was in the territory of the Kicukiro Primary Court for the first time.
He said that although Rugaza had said that Rusesabagina had bought the plot in Nyarutarama, Gasabo district, he was arrested within the boundaries of Kicukiro district.
Regarding citizenship, the Prosecutor said that Rusesabagina has not provided proof that he relinquished his Rwandan citizenship, which is done in writing. The Prosecutor further said that Rusesabagina in his profile confirmed that he was Rwandan and Belgian.
Regarding his arrest, the Prosecutor said Rusesabagina was arrested on August 28, handed over to the Prosecution on September 9 and arraigned Court on September 11, making the process lawful, nullifying the argument that his rights were violated.
On Rusesabagina admitting in court that he used to pay Mukashema for a certain period when she was producing war-mongering propaganda on Ubumwe Radio, Prosecutors said it should be clearly captured as a confession which will be raised again when the trial goes into substance.
The Prosecutor further said that Rusesabagina admitting in court that he sent money amounting up 20,000 Euros to NLF and $3,000 to the likes of Gen. Irategeka should be good evidence to facilitate the case.
During the session, the judge read to Rusesabagina his response during interrogation when he was shown a video of himself footage and audio recordings calling on “boys and girls” to take up arms against the Rwandan government.
Rusesabagina said that if he made the pronouncements, he made them in Belgium, with his lawyer claiming that he was shown the audio but he did not hear the content and that his lawyer did not get them in advance before the court appearance.
The Prosecutor maintained that Rusesabagina’s activities to support armed groups started way back 2009, starting with members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) until 2018 when he openly declared war on Rwanda, thereby committing terrorism offences.
Pinned on the attacks
The Prosecutor said that even the court accepts to assess Rusesabagina’s bail appeal, it should not be given importance because he has to answer for the serious crimes he is alleged to have committed, including the killing of residents of Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe, Nyamasheke and Rusizi districts by NLF militia.
Prosecution says they have lined up survivors and victims of the attacks which mainly came from Burundi but were later repulsed by Rwanda Defence Force (RDF).
On the issue of posting bail money and sureties, Rusesabagina’s lawyer said that they did not mention how much they can post as security because Prosecution did mention the cost of what was damaged in the attacks.
The Prosecutor said that there is no value that can be attached to human life emphasizing that Rusesabagina has been involved in criminal activities of a serious nature, punishable under the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Act.
Rusesabagina faces 13 charges including creating an illegal army unit or joining it, engaging in terrorism or promoting terrorism, engaging in terrorism for political gain, treason, murder, involuntary manslaughter, complicity in the crime of hostage-taking, complicity in the crime of armed robbery, arson and recruiting children in military activities, among others.
His case is likely to be linked with those of Nsabimana and his replacement as NLF Spokesperson Herman Nsengimana, who were also arrested and are currently facing similar charges. The court will pronounce itself on the matter on Friday, October 02, 2020 at 2p.m.