Rwanda’s imprisoned opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was dealt a blow after the court rejected her plea for video conferencing to help her follow court proceedings in a case involving the government of Rwanda.
The Arusha based African Court of Human and Peoples Rights' President Augustino Ramadhani Sunday said the court did not have the capacity to facilitate the use of video conferencing, adding that her presence at the court was not necessary.
Lawyers of the embattled Rwandan politician had argued that since she cannot be allowed to travel and attend the hearings in Arusha, the court should avail her with video conferencing facilities.
Her lead counsel, Gatera Gashabana told the court that preventing her from participating “would undermine her right to effective remedy.”
“In the absence of rules guiding the taking of evidence from video conferencing, the court cannot compel the government of Rwanda to provide video conferencing for her to follow proceedings," Mr Ramadhani said.
The court also rejected Ingabire’s request to disregard the amicus curiae (impartial adviser to a court) role by the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG).
The lawyers had contested the body’s neutrality on the basis that it had “no independent status from the government.”
However, the court ruled that it has discretion to receive evidence from any person, which in its view would assist it in the determination of a case.
The court however called on the government to cease the alleged illegal searching of documents belonging to Ingabire’s lawyers when they are visiting her in prison.
To this, the court ruled that it recognizes Ingabire’s right to legal counsel and asked government to assist Ingabire in accessing counsel.
This was in response to complaints raised by her lawyers, who said that they face intimidation and mandatory searching of their documents whenever they visit her in prison.
“Searching documents of her lawyers while they visit her in prison is in contravention of international human rights and Rwandan laws, which recognize and guarantee the right of lawyers to communicate with detained clients, professional secrecy, and provide for procedures of search of an advocate’s office,” the court said.
The government did not respond to this claim in court, but the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye told The East African Tuesday, that the claim of searching through her lawyers’ document was baseless.
“I do not believe that there was evidence to that claim. The rule about access between lawyer and client is a rule in our law, and to the best of my knowledge it has not been broken,” he said.
Ms Ingabire, 47, who heads the unregistered political party FDU-Inkingi, dragged the Rwanda government to the Arusha-based court, accusing it of violating her rights and freedoms under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
She is serving 15 years in prison after Rwanda’s Supreme Court in 2013 found her guilty of inciting revolt, forming armed groups to destabilise the country.
Rwanda will be expected to appear at future hearings of this particular trial, despite requesting to withdraw from the court’s special declaration that allows individuals and NGOs to sue governments.
The Arusha court approved the government’s request, but maintained that it can only withdraw from the special declaration one year after submission of the request.
In the Sunday hearing, Rwanda was represented by senior state attorney Epimaque Rubango Kayihura.