In sentencing PDP party president Deogratias Mushayidi to life in prison, the Rwandan Supreme Court’s controversial verdict puts an end to the political career of one of Rwanda’s most important Tutsi opposition leaders and a vocal critic of Kagame’s government.
By Josephine Uwineza, Hilversum
Rwanda’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that found Mushayidi guilty of plotting to overthrow Paul Kagame's government, spreading rumors to incite hatred of the government and using forged documents. The Supreme Court ordered him to pay 833.500 Rwandan Francs [€1027,29] for trial costs.
“Deo Mushayidi has pleaded guilty to using forged documents and was unable to provide evidence supporting the speeches he gave on radio, television and in the written press,” Alain Mukuralindi, a prosecution spokesperson, told RNW.
The charges against Mushayidi included creating an armed group and collaborating with the Congolese-based armed group FDLR. “The prosecution submitted proof linking the accused to this movement, and he was unable to refute any of the elements presented to him,” said Mukuralindi.
But according to Gerard Karangwa, the Vice President of Mushayidi’s Pacte de Défense du Peuple (PDP), his boss is innocent and such trials are merely tools to silence the opposition. He told RNW: “The prosecution did not provide one single witness, but the defense still has evidence that Deo Mushayidi did not spread rumors about the current regime, that all he stated is founded and accurate.”
The Rwandan Supreme Court reinforced the earlier ruling, saying the defence did not present sufficient evidence to mitigate its case. The High Court had sentenced him to life in September 2010, ruling Mushayidi was guilty of planning to cause state insecurity, through means of war, spreading propaganda and using a forged passport.
He was then sentenced in absentia and ordered to pay the costs incurred during the trial, which amounted to more than 73,000 Rwandan Francs (€89,97).
The lower court rejected Mushayidi’s request to reduce his sentence, saying that he had himself admitted to forging documents and asked for forgiveness on that lesser charge only. However, he was cleared on the charges of divisionism and promoting ‘genocide ideology’. He was also acquitted of working with a terrorist organization, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and of forming a militant group.
The defence paints different picture
The 50-year-old Mushayidi was born in Rwanda in 1961 into the Tutsi ethnic group. He worked as a volunteer at the Secretariat General of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in August 1994 [when it was still a rebel group fighting the Hutu-led government that resulted in some 800,000 deaths of Tutsis and moderate Hutus].
But he left the RPF in 1995 after disagreements with the party leadership and became the most critical journalist of the current regime. He founded and led the Pacte de Défense du Peuple (PDP) before being arrested in March 2010 in Burundi.
Says party VP Karangwa: “Rwandans are saddened and outraged by this decision…. Deo Mushayidi is a victim of the 1994 genocide in which he lost his entire family. He nevertheless dedicated his entire life to advocating for reconciliation among Rwandans through the establishment of fair justice and the search for the truth about the Rwandan tragedy of 1994.”