Jailed opposition politician Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire has filed an appeal in the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court, hoping to reverse her High Court sentence.
Ms Ingabire was sentenced to eight years in prison by the country’s second highest court on two charges of genocide denial and complicity to threaten state security after a marathon two-year trial in which the prosecution had asked for a life sentence. The female politician was cleared of several charges that could have seen her get the maximum life sentence.
Her defence team, led by British advocate Iain Edwards, expressed their intention to appeal the sentence right after the October sentencing, pointing out that there were inconsistences in the ruling made by the High Court and misrepresentation of facts.
Ms Ingabire had withdrawn from the case in April on the grounds that the charges she was facing were politically motivated and the courts were not independent enough to try her, an allegation the government dismisses.
Says case politically motivated
According to Nkiko Nsengimana, the co-ordinator of the Union Democratic Forces (FDU)-Inkingi, Ms Ingabire’s unregistered party, the appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Rwanda on December 18.
“The notice of appeal was given to the court clerk today and no docket fee was demanded. The appellant will be represented by Batonnier Gatera Gashabana and Barrister Iain Edwards,” Mr Nsengimana said.
The party, however, said the decision does mean that Ms Ingabire no longer considers the case politically motivated.
FDU Inkingi said in a statement: “Her decision to appeal does not condone the flawed politicised judiciary under the guise of the dictatorship and absence of rule of law.
“It only paves the way for future referral to international, regional or continental jurisdictions or international human rights courts, basing their grounds, merits and eligibility criteria on the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies.”
When Rwanda Today contacted Ms Ingabire’s lawyer, Gatera Gashabana, he declined to comment, pointing out that he was under instructions not to speak about the impending appeal. Mr Nsengimana however said the intention of the appeal would be to highlight the main flaws in the case.
“Among other things, we want to highlight the failure to ensure that evidence was properly handled, challenge the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, lack of due process, denial of constitutional rights to free speech, political and civil rights etc,” he said.
Ms Ingabire’s party also claims that there are allegations of torture and intimidation of witnesses and external interference.
Prosecution had also appealed
Ingabire’s appeal came after more than two weeks after the prosecution’s submission of its own appeal challenging the eight-year prison sentence handed to Ingabire by the High Court. According to Alain Mukuralinda, the spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution, due to the fact that the prosecutors were not happy with her acquittal of four charges by the High Court.
“The sentence was very light compared with what the prosecution had asked for,” said Mr Mukuralinda.
“We had presented enough evidence to the court and we had pointed out the provisions under the law under which she was accused.
“It was also disturbing that the court pointed out several times that what Ingabire uttered and published amounts to criminal acts but went ahead to clear her of the charges, saying there was no evidence to prove that there were implications resulting from them.”
Ms Ingabire was acquitted on charges related to genocide ideology, promoting ethnic divisionism and forming alliances with armed groups to threaten state security.
The prosecution argues that if Ingabire’s co-accused pleaded guilty and the court could not rule out the connections between her and the four men, it is important that the court finds credible evidence that disassociates the politician from the foursome if it is to clear her of any charges.
Appeal hearing not soon
Despite both sides filing appeals, however, it will not be until next year that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal, according to the spokesperson of the Supreme Court, Charles Kaliwabo.
“We received the appeal notice from Ms Ingabire’s defence but it will go through a long procedure first before the date for hearing is set,” Mr Kaliwabo told Rwanda Today.
“There will be a meeting first between both sides before the Court Registrar to discuss several things before the date is set.” he added.
According to Mr Kaliwabo, there are many cases lined up for hearing over the next two months and if the festive season is factored in, it will not be until March or April that the appeal hearing will take place.
Ms Ingabire is currently detained at Kigali Central Maximum Prison, commonly known as 1930. The politician returned to Rwanda in January 2010 from exile to contest the country’s presidency but was arrested a few months later and taken to court to face a string of criminal charges.