FLN Appeal Verdict: Court of Appeal Pronounces Itself on High Court Convictions in Rusesabagina & co. Trial

Court of Appeal Judges were still delivering the judgement in the FLN Appeal trial by the time of publication. Photos by Moses Niyonzima/KT Press

 The judgement rendering in the appeal trial involving Paul Rusesabgina, Callixte ‘Sankara’ Nsabimana and 19 others, commenced at the Court of Appeal on Monday morning, with the judges expected to deliver new sentences. 

At the opening, the Appeal Court said the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-border Crimes misinterpreted the articles of the law in acquitting some of the suspects in the trial, particularly on the crime of terrorism. 

On September 20, 2021, court cleared Rusesabagina and Nsabimana on the crime of terrorism, rather choosing to term their actions as complicit in terrorism activities but Prosecution appealed against the decision. 

The bench, led by the President of the Court of Appeal, François Regis and composed of judges Justin Gakwaya and Emmanuel Kamere, kicked off the verdict hearing by giving a background of the submissions made by all parties earlier this year, as well as precedents it based on to make a decision. 

Prosecution wants the sentences of the convicts revised upwards by considering the terrorism charge and revisiting some of the sentences handed out, arguing that the High Court disregarded provisions of the law, going below the threshold set in determining sentences. 

It was further argued that the mitigating factors court based on to hand out lenient sentences were not convincing enough, praying to the Court of Appeal to properly apply the law in the Appeal Trial which saw 13 of the individuals appeal as well as civil parties seeking befitting reparations. 

Rusesabagina, 67, who was not present in court through the hearing, was handed 25 years in prison after he was found guilty of terror-related charges, including forming an armed group, conspiracy to commit terrorism, kidnapping and others, while Nsabimana was given a 20-year sentence. 

During the verdict rendering, the Court of Appeals ruled that the High Court had erred in acquitting Rusesabagina, Nsabimana and Marc Nizeyimana on the charge of being members of a terrorist organisation, arguing that the decision was based wrong grounds. 

Giving a precedent of the cases involving Victoire Umuhoza and Deo Mushayidi, the Court of Appeal ruled out the argument by Rusesabagina, Nsabimana and co. that considering that they were not in Rwanda at the time of FLN attacks on the south western part of Rwanda between 2018 and 2019, they cannot be held liable of the attacks. 

The court argued that in the primary and high court hearing, Rusesabagina, before withdrawing from attending court, Rusesabagina admitted to supporting and financing National Liberation Front (FLN), the armed wing of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD). 

Rusesabagina further told court that he was not aware that lives would be lost as a result of the actions of FLN and apologized before court, while Nsabimana, throughout the trial, detailed his role in coordinating the attacks as the FLN spokesperson, despite not being on the ground. 

Court further said that the activities of FLN, which constituted recruiting and moving individuals to training camps in the region and the financing model, confirmed by Rusesabagina, constitute enough evidence to confirm that it is a terror organisation and operated like one. 

As such, Justice Rukundakuvuga said that court found that the court of first instance made a mistake in acquitting the three individuals, who were known to play leadership roles in FLN, of the crime of terrorism. 

The court said that based on article 19 of the anti-terrorism law, which defines acts of terror, the individuals were not just complicit in terror activities by they directly participated, by virtual of their actions, including commanding the fighters. 

Apart from Nsabimana, others who were sentenced to 20 years in prison include Nizeyimana, Cassien Bizimana, Jean Berchmans Matakamba, Emmanuel Shaban, Innocent Ntibiramira, Jean Claude Byukusenge and Jean Damascène Nsabimana. 

Several of the convicts appealed to court, submitting mitigating factors it would base on to reduce their sentences or consider them for demobilisation and reintegration, as it is done with other members of militia groups. 

Among those seeking reduced sentences is Nsabimana, who argued that he cooperated with the process through a plea bargain and should be handed a much lighter sentence. He argued that mitigating factors were not considered. Court however did agree with the initial ruling that mitigating factors were considered and that majority of the suspects got lenient sentences based on that. 

Factoring in the gravity of the crimes the defendants are accused of, court ruled out most of the grounds they are seeking their sentences to be commuted or converted into demobilisation and reintegration, arguing that majority of them did not abandon fighting voluntarily, but were arrested and sent to Rwanda, which means that they did not voluntarily surrender.

Among other things, the court also argued that the accused don’t have proper addresses where they can be located in case they evaded justice and therefore can’t be released. Judges ruled in favour of retaining the decisions by the High Court.

The verdict rendering was still ongoing by the time of publication.




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