The trial of President Paul Kagame’s former bodyguard Lt Joel Mutabazi has taken a new twist after the prosecution presented video clips of his co-accused allegedly confessing to plotting to overthrow the government.
The trial resumed on May 12 with the military prosecution presenting a video about 50 minutes long to convince the court that the accused are collaborators of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in their plans to overthrow the government.
In the video clip, two of Lt Mutabazi’s co-accused, Joseph Nshimiyimana and Kalisa Innocent, also former republican guards, confess to their alleged crimes.
However, while the suspects agree that the faces shown in the video clip are indeed theirs, they disown the voices.
But this latest development — linking the suspects to RNC, one of the most prominent of the Rwandan opposition groups based in exile, whose leadership is largely drawn from former senior cadres in the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front and the military who have fallen out with the establishment — could see the political party officially put in the same category as FDLR, the remnant of the Interahamwe militia accused of committing the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Early this year, RNC was shaken by the murder of Patrick Karegeya, one of its founders, who was found dead in a hotel room in Johannesburg in South Africa. The former head of external security was an integral part of the opposition.
A few weeks later, one of its senior members, Dr Paulin Murayi and his wife Winnie Kabuga, quit and started their own party.
Most recently, the popular musician Kizito Mihigo and the journalists Cassien Ntamuhanga, Agnes Niyibizi and Jean Paul Dukuzumuremyi, were arrested and charged with attempts to overthrow the government and terrorism. Police details emerged linking the suspects to the FDLR and RNC.
However, the key suspects in the case, Lt Mutabazi, who is charged with plotting grenade attacks in the capital Kigali and Mr Nshimiyimana, who was allegedly the co-ordinator of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in Kampala, have refused to answer charges.
They maintain that they were wrongfully extradited and that their pre-trial rights were violated as they never appeared before a primary court to file for bail.
“I have never come across a court where proceedings go on while law books are closed,” Mr Nshimiyimana said while appearing before the Kanombe Military High Court. He was referring to the court’s refusal to entertain the suspects’argument that they were kidnapped.
Lt Mutabazi, was extradited from Uganda last year in October, appeared in court last week, affirming his earlier position that he will not co-operate in the trial because he is not assured of the impartiality of the military court.
While RNC and FDLR have many leaders, only two names have featured prominently in the trial: The late Col Patrick Karegeya and Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, also currently exiled in South Africa.
The former was an ex-spy chief while the latter served as army chief before going on become Rwanda’s ambassador to India.