The High Court in Kigali on Friday evening sentenced popular Rwandan musician Kizito Mihigo to 10 years in prison after he was found guilty of conspiracy to murder or harm President Paul Kagame and other top leaders of the country.
The 33-year-old singer, who is a genocide survivor, was also convicted of complicity to overthrow the government and conspiracy to form alliances with negative groups to destabilise the country.
His co-accused, radio journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga, was handed 25 years while retired soldier Jean Paul Dukuzumuremyi got 30 years. The fourth defendant, Agnes Nyibizi, was acquitted.
Reading the lengthy verdict, the judge said that Mihigo was given a lenient sentence because he pleaded guilty from the outset and made the court’s work easy. Mihigo appeared subdued and bowed to the bench in an apparent sign of agreement with the verdict but Ntamuhanga and Dukuzumuremyi protested the lengthy sentences.
“This is ridiculous and a mockery of justice but the truth will come out,” a defiant Ntamuhanga said as he was bundled onto a Rwanda Correctional Service pick-up truck. “I am not satisfied and I am ready to appeal.”
The four were arrested in April last year and charged with four terrorism-related crimes. The six-month trial that followed was however marred by claims of torture and forced confessions by Mr Dukuzumuremyi, who denied all the charges and claimed that they were fabricated by security organs.
Mihigo was cleared of terrorism charges.
For his close links to the government and the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party and his involvement in unity and reconciliation programmes, his arrest was a shocker as he was viewed as the blue-eyed boy of the state.
In the course of the trial, he dismissed his defence after it attempted to maintain a guilty plea. He then confessed to all the crimes he was accused of committing.