Rwanda’s Military High court has sentenced Col.Tom Byabagamba to 21 years in prison and ruled that his rank be stripped off and all medals awarded to him previously revoked.
In the same ruling, Brig Gen Frank Rusagara has been sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The two military officers including Sgt (Rtd) François Kabayiza, who gets 5 years and Rwf500,000 fines, formerly a driver of Rusagara, have been battling a court case for the past 549 days on charges of inciting insurrection, tarnishing the image of the country and illegal possession and concealment of firearms.
Rwanda in and out have been eagerly waiting for the verdict by Judges at the Military High Court since morning in the high profile case.
Col.Byabagamba is a former chief of the Rwanda Presidential Guard while Gen. Rusagara is the former Commandant of the Rwanda Military Academy, Nyakinama.
The highly sensitive case has been closely followed for the past 549 days.
All the officers were first produced at a Military Tribunal in Nyamirambo on September 26, 2014 for pre-trial detention proceedings.
The trio have been contesting charges including; inciting insurrection, tarnishing the image of the country and illegal possession and concealment of firearms.
For more than 20 months, the back and forth court sessions have been a scene of revelation of sensitive military information, lengthy arguments, consultations from several printed and electronic material.
All proceedings have happened in the presence of the media.
The co-accused, repeatedly defied the panel of judges, accused prosecutors of lying and made all sorts of statements in court proceedings against the government.
In particular, Colonel Byabagamba was charged with inciting insurrection, tarnishing the image of the country contrary to Article 660 of the Penal Code, concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offense, contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code.
The military prosecution had requested the court to sentence the Colonel to 22 years in prison, fine of Rwf8 million and be stripped of his rank. Indeed, the court did so.
For Brig General (Rtd) Rusagara, who has served in various capacities, according to military prosecution, was charged with intentionally and consistently spreading enemy propaganda, there by acting as their agent.
Prosecutors explained to judges that the General tried to convince senior military officers, both active and retired, to join his ideology aimed at overthrowing the government.
In recorded evidence, the General is quoted saying that, “Rwanda is a police state, a Banana Republic, RNC [Rwanda National Congress] is growing strong, Kagame is a dictator, our guy [President Paul Kagame- the commander-in-chief] is finished , the President is a liar…government of Rwanda is unpopular.”
When Brig. Gen (Rtd) Rusagara was arrested on August 21, 2014, his driver Sgt (Rtd) Kabayiza, quickly took two of his boss’ pistols for keeping to Colonel Byabagamba.
In the process of investigation, and an attempt to recover the missing fire arms, Colonel Byabagamba was arrested, two days later.
Colonel Byabagamba and his lawyers told court he had no intention to hide the guns and that he in fact willingly reported them to the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) after he was contacted to give details regarding the pistols earlier on.
And for Sgt (Rtd) Kabayiza, prosecution accused him of concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offense contrary to Article 327 of the Penal Code.
Meanwhile, on October 23, 2013 the cabinet had approved retirement of 600 military officers. Gen. Rusagara was among them. By law, he was required to submit fire arms to RDF immediately. When arrested one year later, he was still in possession of the two pistols.
Gen. Rusagara, however, told the court the arms were personal properties acquired as gifts from South Africa and Israel Military Industries.
He was hesitant to explain if the arms were registered and why he had not reported or gracefully handed them over to the army upon retirement.
The court has handed him 22 years in jail.
Inciting rebellion against government
Meanwhile, prosecution had produced several pieces of evidence.
For example evidence unveiled against Colonel Byabagamba shows that he sent SMS to one of his military colleagues commenting on an online publication (www.thelancet.com), in a way suggesting that Rwanda is not well governed, which amounts to spreading rumors and negative propaganda against the government of Rwanda with intention to tarnish its good image.
Although Colonel Byabagamba was reportedly warned several times by superiors he failed to reform, prosecution says he kept insulting the leadership and allegedly maintained close contact with state enemies grouped under RNC.
In defense, Colonel Byabagamba had explained to court that he was not recalling to have sent the alleged SMS, and in any case it was not his own words, but the words of the publication in question above.
On the part of Gen. Rusagara, the court found him guilty of mobilising military officers to follow Radio Itahuka run by RNC as one way of adhering to RNC ideology, communicating with Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, now a fugitive living in South Africa and late Colonel Patrick Karegeya, once the Chief of Intelligence before he fled the country, all founding members of RNC.
Gen. Rusagara and his lawyers rejected all these accusations. The court trashed all the defenses.
In some hearings, prosecution produced military officers, all witnesses against the accused. The officers called the witnesses “opportunists.”
After examining the case, the Military High Court has decided they serve a sentence of over 20 years in prison.
Byabagamba and Rusagara have however, immediately appealed against the ruling.