A military tribunal in Kigali has once again adjourned the case involving former presidential guard Lt Joel Mutabazi and 16 others, to July 17, after two suspects recanted their testimonies.
The trial, which has dragged on for months and attracted the interest of rights groups and the diplomatic corps, has been marred by evidence and testimony retractions, prompting the judges to adjourn it for several weeks as prosecutors accuse the suspects of being “stubborn.”
Lt Mutabazi, who was arrested and extradited from Uganda last year under mysterious circumstances, is accused of threatening state security by planning terror attacks in Rwanda, inciting the masses against the government, spreading false information with the aim of tarnishing the image of the country, conspiracy to murder and threatening the life of the head of state among other charges.
Pelagie Nzeyimana and Dativa Murekeyisoni retracted their earlier testimonies that they had joined the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) — an opposition group formed by exiled former members of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front — and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) at the trial, which resumed last week.
Prosecutors allege that the two women had been recruited into the organisations. On July 9, when the duo’s charges were read, they did not object but, on July 10, they retracted their earlier admissions.
The two suspects denied plans to carry out grenade attacks in Kigali, overturning vehicles and setting petrol stations on fire. But, they admitted to having been members of the RNC.
According to military prosecutors, Ms Nizeyimana visited FDLR camps inside DR Congo and attended military training sessions to learn how to carry out grenade attacks and set petrol stations on fire.
“I went on a two-day trip to DR Congo but I did not go to any FDLR camps nor receive any training. I travelled there for personal reasons,” said Ms Nizeyimana. She asked the court to nullify the submissions because she made them under duress.
Ms Nizeyimana, whose fiancé Cyprian Nibishaka is also a suspect in the trial, said she travelled to DR Congo to shop for her upcoming wedding. The prosecution, led by Lt Faustin Nzakamwita, accused Mr Nibishaka of being a senior recruiter for RNC and FDLR, and arranging Ms Nizeyimana’s trip to DR Congo.
Ms Murekeyisoni is accused of running the finances for the planned activities. She allegedly opened a bank account in Musanze, Northern Province with Jean de Dieu Nizigiyeyo, another suspect in the case.
While she did not deny opening the account, she said that it was not for RNC or FDLR but for business transactions. She had earlier admitted to receiving funds.
Prosecutors presented a list of alleged members of RNC who sent funds through the account but Ms Murekeyisoni denies receiving the money. Several suspects have appeared in court with bandaged limbs, raising fears that they could have been tortured while in detention.
RNC issued a statement this week saying that possessing an RNC membership card is not a criminal offence and is not enough evidence to prove ‘criminality’. The 17 suspects have since retracted most of their earlier submissions, making the job difficult for the military court to hear the ‘terror trial’.