The pretrial hearing of Youtube ‘activist’ Yvonne Idamange Iryamugwiza kicked off on Thursday at Gasabo District Primary Court as she appeared in court for the second since her arrest on February 15, following a series of Youtube videos she published on her channel.
Idamange is facing six charges which include inciting insurrections or public uprising, denigrating genocide commemoration artifacts, publication of rumours, assault and causing bodily harm, obstructing the work of law enforcement organs and issuing a bouncing cheque.
The 42-year-old mother of four pleaded not guilty to all the charges, claiming that she made the remarks and posted the videos out of depression brought about by the lockdown.
During the hearing which was held virtually, Prosecution detailed how Idamange, in various videos deliberated propagated rumours or falsehoods with the intention of inciting people to go and protest at the Office of the President of the Republic.
The court sitting in Kibagabaga heard from Idamange and her lawyers Felix Gashema and Bruce Bikotwa, via a video link from the Remera Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) station where she is being held.
Prosecution mainly relied on evidence from the videos which were posted on Youtube before her arrest and a bounced cheque worth Rwf400, 000 which she allegedly issued to one Emmanuel Nsabimana.
On inciting insurrections, Prosecutors said Idamange made false and disparaging claims with a purpose of inciting people to rise up against the government and deliberately made claims about the life of the President of the Republic, well knowing that they were false.
In one of the videos, Idamange claimed that the Head of State ‘died long ago’ and citizens should go to Village Urugwiro and protest, demanding to see his body. Idamange further referred to the government as a ‘bunch of bandits.’
Court also heard how Idamange said that COVID-19 had become a new tool the government was using to repress people, replacing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, further claiming that the Government had turned Genocide memorial sites into tourist attractions.
“The government is selling the bodies of our loved ones” claimed Idamange. Prosecutors said that most of her remarks were insulting, derogatory and false in every sense.
Prosecution further said that Idamange deliberately refused to cooperate in a law enforcement exercise, by refusing to open for Police officers when they came to arrest her on February 15. When they eventually gained access, she reportedly attacked one of the officers with a bottle, injuring him in the process.
Prosecutors said that Idamange was facing charges of a serious nature, some carrying up to more than six years in prison and that she should be kept in custody, to allow investigations to continue.
Idamange on her part told the court the manner in which she was arrested, insisting that the officers were lucky the dogs had not been released, otherwise they would have bitten the officers.
She said she was handcuffed by RIB officers upstairs after she refused to come down. On injuring an officer, Idamange denied ever injuring him, claiming that it could have been a door or his colleague who injured him.
On undermining genocide evidence, Idamange said that she would not have done anything to trivialise the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi because she is a ‘genocide survivor’.
On the charge of interfering with government programmes, Idamange denied inciting people to reject measures against the New Coronavirus, claiming instead that she was urging people to adhere to them.
On the charge of issuing a non-secured cheque, Idamange said that the recipient was aware that there was no money on the account before bouncing it.
Despite not pleading guilty, Idamange apologized to anybody who might have been affected by her utterances. She also confirmed to court that the videos on Youtube are hers and she is the one in the videos.
The prosecution however dismissed most of Idamange’s claims, pointing out that she intentionally refused to open for law enforcement officers, who possessed an arrest warrant and only exercised their power to force entry, which is how they were able to arrest her.
According to Prosecution, there was an urgent move to apprehend the suspect rather than letting her continue spreading the dangerous rumours.
Her lawyers told the court that the charge of spreading rumours is not criminal in nature and shouldn’t be a reason to keep their client in detention. They also claimed that her rights were violated during arrest because there were no local leaders present.
They also argued that the charge of issuing a bounced cheque was unfounded because the alleged incident happened in 2018, more than four years ago, making the charge legally absolute, wondering also how it is connected to her current charges.
They also denied that their client injured a policeman, asking for proof to affirm that she committed the crime.
Idamange and her lawyers told the court that she should be released on bail because there are no serious charges and also to allow her to go and attend to her children. Idamange also told the court that she was depressed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Her lawyers maintained that their client only exercised her constitutional right and spoke what was on her mind and that is what it should be -freedom of speech and expression.
They also said that Prosecution should present victims and also that her videos were cut into small snippets to mean something else, rather than viewing them as a whole. They claimed this changed their context.
The prosecution however maintained that the impact of what Idamange said or posted deliberately cannot be underestimated and more details will be shared when the trial goes into substance.
Idamange claimed that she did what she did out of ‘patriotism’ while her lawyers maintained that there is no strong evidence to suggest that Idamange committed the crimes.
The Judge adjourned the hearing, setting the date for a ruling on pre-trial detention on Tuesday, March 9, at 4pm.