Rwanda treason case stalls as defence lawyers skip court

Tuesday December 29 2015

Brig-Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara (left), Sgt (Rtd)

Brig-Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara (left), Sgt (Rtd) Francois Kabayiza (centre) and Col Tom Byabagamba at an earlier hearing. PHOTO | FILE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Ivan R. Mugisha

The trial of Col Tom Byabagamba, Brig-Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara and Sgt (Rtd) Francois Kabayiza was postponed Tuesday after their lawyers failed to show up at the Military High Court.

Judge Maj Bernard Hategekimana said the case will proceed next year against prosecution demands that the lawyers be mandated to explain their absence.

This is not the first time the lawyers have skipped court. In June, the defence lawyers were each fined $416 after the judge termed their action as contempt of court.

In defence of their lawyers, Col Byabagamba, who was in court Tuesday together with his co-accused, argued that the case was to resume Monday, December 28, but was changed to the following day without their knowledge.

“I cannot continue because I have not communicated with my lawyer and he is not around today. I did not even know that the trial was meant for today. We had agreed that it would resume yesterday (Monday) but nothing happened,” he said.



Judge Hategekimana agreed to adjourn the case, however clarifying that the trial had to be postponed to Tuesday since Monday was a holiday as a result of December 26 falling on a weekend.

According to Rwanda's law  "if an official holiday falls on one day of the weekend, the following working day shall be an official holiday."

Meanwhile, the three military officers accused of treason, asked the court for more time with their lawyers, terming the two hours per day they are allowed to meet with their attorneys “very minimal.”

“This is just an administrative issue. If your lawyers can be available for more than two hours, it can be arranged,” Judge Hategekimana responded.

The trial of the three men, who were arrested in August last year over “suspected involvement in crimes against state security" has been marred by delays.

Defence lawyers have previously argued with the military judges to separate the trials of their clients, and even challenged the competence of the court, but the court has on all occasions ruled against them.

The trial will continue for three consecutive days from January 5.