Col Tom Byabagamba and Brig-Gen (rtd) Frank Rusagara, who were in 2016 sentenced by the Military High Court to 21 years and 20 years imprisonment, respectively, for illegal possession of arms inciting rebellion, will now serve only fifteen years in prison after the Court of Appeal in Kigali slashed their sentences.
Presiding judge Patricie Mukanyundo said there was no justification by the Military High Court for handing the soldiers more than 15 years for inciting rebellion and illegal possession of arms
“The convictions remain but the sentences are reduced because the Military High Court did not justify why the sentences exceed 15 years—which is the maximum for the crimes Col Tom Byabagamba and Brig General Frank Rusagara committed,” the court ruled on Friday.
The court of Appeal also stripped Col Tom Byabagamba, former head of the Presidential Guard unit, of his rank.
The brothers-in-law were found guilty of inciting rebellion against the established government while Byabagamba was also found to have disrespected the national flag and Rusagara for illegal possession of arms.
Reacting to the court’s verdict, Rusagara’s lawyer Pierre Celeste Buhuru said they would lodge an appeal at the East African Court of Justice.
“It is good that the imprisonment has been reduced but our clients were supposed to be set free. We shall discuss with our clients and see if we can appeal at the East African Court of Justice,” Buhuru told the press after the ruling on Friday.
The duo had appealed their sentencing along with Rusagara’s driver Sergeant (rtd) François Kabayiza, who was sentenced to five years in jail for concealing evidence about the crimes of his boss. Kabayiza’s sentence ended early this year.
The trio, who were arrested in 2014, told the Court of Appeal that they were suffering solitary confinement and were subjected to close surveillance by cameras. The court made an inspection but said it only shared its findings with the lawyers and prosecution.
The accused had argued that they never incited the public to rebel but rather expressed ideas through private conversations but the Court of Appeal observed that “Rusagara had the alleged conversations at Nyarutarama Tennis Club which is a public place”.
In November, British parliamentarians wrote to Rwanda government pleading for the release of Byabagamba and Rusagara.
Justice Minister Johnston Busingye replied that there was no way the government could intervene in judicial matters and asked the UK MPs to respect the country’s judicial system.
“Any such action would constitute improper interference with an independent judicial process,” the response read.
The court’s ruling means the two have 10 more years to serve in jail.