On Thursday, a Rwandan military tribunal condemned two senior army figures to 20 years in prison for inciting rebellion, AFP correspondent at the Kigali court said.
Delivering the judgment, Judge Narcisse Nsengiyumva said the “court condemns Colonel Tom Byabagamba to 21 years in jail and a reduction in rank and retired general Frank Rusagara to 20 years in prison."
The two who were once, close to the inner circle of Rwandan President Paul Kagame were found guilty of the charges.
Byabagamba was also convicted of withholding evidence while Rusagara was also found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm. The two once served as head of the presidential guard and former secretary-general of the defense ministry respectively.
The two men who were arrested in 2014 were charged with inciting rebellion by "spreading rumors" and "tarnishing the image of the country and government."
It was heard during the trial that Byabagamba, on several occasions uttered statements that soiled the state name, some of which occurred while he was away on duty in South Sudan. He is also accused of deliberating failing to salute as the national flag was being hoisted during an official function.
As for Rusagara, it was stated that he circulated material, mainly through his email, most of which was propaganda based on mere rumors, with an aim of tarnishing the image of the state.
The prosecutor said Rusagara had been heard saying Rwanda "is a police state and a banana republic", and that he had described Kagame as a "dictator".
A third man, Francois Kabayiza got five years in prison for concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offense.
The court heard that charge of illegal possession of firearms stemmed from two guns that Rusagara kept at his home and which, after his arrest, were picked by Kabayiza who then took them to Byabagamba. The latter also never declared the guns.
The cases have attracted criticism with some critics arguing that the trials have exposed Rwanda’s underbelly- the working of a ‘paranoid’ state that is increasingly nervous over the activities of the dissident Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an exiled opposition group that includes several former top members of Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
In an article, Dr David Himbara argued that in most parts of the world, what the two had done would have amounted to political satire. “A combination of humor and political analysis, political satire aims at causing laughter. But in Kagame’s dictatorship, satire is tantamount to unpatriotic or even rebellious behavior,” he added.
Kagame has run Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. His recent controversial announcement that he would seek a third term attracted criticism from the United States and the European Union. If he is elected in 2017-which is likely- Kagame could rule the country until 2034.
Although Kagame’s supporters see him as the ‘savior’, the US, in a recent United Nations Security Council debate remarked that Rwanda lacks political space. This it said citing that journalists and individuals are not allowed to openly discuss affairs or report on issues of public concern.
Image credit: AFP / Stephanie Aglietti