Rwandan top military officers’ trial delayed over hefty court fines

Col. Tom Byabagamba (L) Sgt Rtd Francios Kabayiza (C) and Brigadier General (Rtd) Frank  Rusagara (R)  at an earlier court hearing

Col. Tom Byabagamba ( 2nd L in full military uniform ) Sgt Rtd Francios Kabayiza (C) and Brigadier General (Rtd) Frank Rusagara (R) at an earlier court hearing

The trial involving three embattled Rwandan high ranking military officials is on halt yet again as the defendants’ lawyers and the court fight over fine of Rwf 300, 000 levied against the former.

The defense lawyers were fined by the court for failing to appear at the June 20 hearing resulting into unnecessary adjournment of the trial.

The lawyers; Pierre Celestin Buhura, Valery Gakunzi and Milton Nkuba Munyadatwa are representing imprisoned army officers Brig-Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara, Colonel Tom Byabagamba and Sgt (Rtd) Francois Kabayiza respectively.

The trio’s defence team told court Monday 29, they are not in position to proceed with the case unless the fine is revisited, and Pierre Celestin Buhura, Brig-Gen (Rtd) Rusagara’s lawyer didn’t show up in court.

Buhura allegedly refused to attend today’s court session to defend his client because the court had dismissed their plea of ignorance of the fines’ procedure.

The army officers are facing charges of inciting insurrection among citizens, tarnishing the image of the government and its leaders and illegal possession of firearms

The lawyers told the court today decision to fine them was not taken through correct procedures thus giving the lawyers no time to appeal the decision.

The court on the other hand has said the defence team is playing delaying tactics with the court and maintained the earlier decision to fine them cannot be reversed since it is line with the laws that guide the Bar association of Rwanda.

Asked on whether or not he will attend the next trial session on July 24, 2015, Brig-Gen (Rtd) Rusagara, whose lawyer was absent, said he cannot proceed with the trial until he gets his lawyer on the docket.

Rusagara’s colleague Col. Byabagamba said he is a prisoner and is ready to appear for trial anytime.

Byabagamba is separately accused of wilfully concealing evidence in a criminal case and contempt of the national flag, and jointly charged with Rusagara of illegal possession of a fire arm.

Their co-accused, Kabayiza, is also charged of illegal possession of a firearm. The trio has since January, when they first appeared in the court martial, pleaded not guilty and cited personal conflicts within military circles as the reason they are on trial.

According to the Military Prosecution, Col Tom Byabagamba is charged with Inciting insurrection or trouble amongst the population contrary to Article 463; Tarnishing the image of the country or government contrary to Article 660; Concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offence contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code.

Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara faces three charges of Inciting insurrection or trouble amongst the population contrary to Article 463; Illegal Possession of fire arms contrary to Article 671 of the Penal Code; and tarnishing the image of the country or government contrary to Article 660 of the Penal Code.

For Sgt Kabayiza Francois who is facing one count of Concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offence contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code, told the court that he was yet to find a lawyer to defend him. He pleaded with the judges to be given until Tuesday to be able to get one.

Col. Tom Byabagamba is the former Head of the Presidential Protection Unit (President Paul Kagame’s) security detail and he is the brother to Kagame’s former aide David Himbara, who has since fallen out with the president and lives in exile in Toronto.

Byabagamba is married to Mary Baine, former Commissioner of Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA).

Brigadier General Rusagara is the former Head of Rwanda Military Academy at Nyakinama, Northern Province.

The now out of favour officers have been linked to Rwanda’s former Army Chief Staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who now lives in South Africa from where he coordinates activities of Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition political party mainly operating in the Diaspora.

The military officers have also been linked to Rwanda’s former spy chief Colonel (RIP) Patrick Karegeya, Kayumba’s former colleague who was strangled in a Johannesburg hotel on New Year’s Eve 2014.