The trial of the 44 Rwandans accused of having links with the terror group Al Shabaab and the Islamic State will be heard on May 2 in camera, a court in Kigali has ruled.
The special chamber of the High Court of Rwanda that tries international crimes upheld the prosecution’s plea that an open hearing would compromise national security.
In its plea, the prosecution raised fear that a public hearing would lead to more radicalisation and cause clashes among the families of the accused because “some of the accused were apprehended because of information provided by their fellow suspects."
The defence lawyers had insisted that the prosecution explains what it meant by national security, arguing that all persons connected to this dossier have been arrested and detained and cannot thus cause any security threat.
On their part, the accused said that only a public hearing would be fair.
“All our pre-trial hearings were conducted in camera, and our families have never had a chance to know the details of our charges. Our trial in merit should be heard in public and this will help our brothers avoid what we are charged with,” one of the accused told the court.
The accused said that they would appeal against this ruling.
The Rwandan criminal procedure law allows the court to order that a case be heard in camera “when its public hearing may be detrimental to public order or good morals.” The same law does not, however, define public order or good morals.
The court set the next hearing for May 2. This date could, however, be affected by the appeal filed by the accused.
The three-judge bench also ordered that the case be disjoined for minors and be heard by a specialised chamber.
Four of the 44 are below 18. Their trial will now be heard by the Gasabo Intermediate Court.
The ruling on the two main objections which had paralysed the trial for almost two months, now raises hope that the fate of the 44 terror suspects will finally be known.
They have been in detention for more than a year.
The details about the charges brought against them have not been made public, but their indictments indicate that they are charged with complicity in a terrorist act, membership to a terrorist organisation, formation of a criminal gang, formation of an irregular armed group and conspiracy and incitement to commit terrorism.