A Chinese national has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for torturing local mine workers in Rwanda after a video showing him whipping a man tied to a post went viral on social media. The incident took place in Mukura cell, Kagano sector, Rutsiro district in the Western Province.
Following the video, Sun Shujun and two conspirators, Alexis Renzaho and Leonidas Nsanzimana, were arrested and charged by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau. All of the accused worked for the Chinese transnational mining company, Ali Group Holdings. The mine produces cassiterite, a mineral that is the main ore of tin.
“It is clear that Sun tortured the victims and issued corporal punishment with malicious intent, and this is a grave crime,” judge Jacques Kanyarukiga ruled, ordering him to serve a 20-year term in prison.
Sun, who was in court for the verdict, acknowledged assaulting two workers, saying he beat them because he was frustrated and fed up with them constantly stealing minerals. He further argued that he had already atoned for his wrongdoing by compensating the two victims with more than one million Rwandan francs and signing a “reconciliation letter”.
The prosecution, which had accused him of assaulting three people, argued that the victims had accepted the payments because they were traumatised and afraid of him. The court accepted this premise as the video showed a visibly enraged Chinese man using a rope to flog a man huddled on the ground and tied to a pole, as a small group of people in orange jackets looked on.
While Sun was sentenced to 20 years, Renzaho was handed 12 years in jail as an accomplice and Nsanzimana was acquitted. The court awarded victims, Azarias Niyomukiza, Gratien Ngendahimana and Deo Bihoyiki, 2.5 million Rwandan francs each in compensation. The defendants have been given one month to appeal against the decision.
The Chinese embassy in Rwanda said that it had “taken note” of the ruling and that “the embassy always asks Chinese citizens in Rwanda to abide by local laws and regulations and calls for the case to be handled appropriately in a rational, fair and just manner, and requests the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens to be properly protected.”
Rwanda and China enjoy good relations and last year marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties. But this horrific incident is indicative of a wider problem of Chinese mining companies violating African mine worker rights across the continent. In the DRC, Zambia and Zimbabwe, there have been a growing number of cases of abuse, discrimination, under payment and life-threatening working conditions. African governments can no longer prioritize profit over the livelihoods of the people they serve any longer.