Rwanda’s judiciary deals embarrassing blow to naysayers

By Mary Mugisha

The big news is that the Rwigaras court case is over and the High Court has acquitted Diane Rwigara and her mother Adeline Mukangemanyi.

The reaction to the news however also has shown to what extent the naysayers and critics whose profession is to mudsling Rwanda have been exposed.

They had excitedly worked up expectations internationally that “Rwanda is going to lock up Rwigara and her mother because there are no human rights in Rwanda, and the country’s courts are neither free nor fair!”

These individuals, including people like David Himbara, have engaged in tireless campaigns to convince even Western lawmaking bodies that “in Rwanda the courts do not operate independently!” Or that “President Kagame controls the courts like someone using a TV remote control!”

Himbara and groups working together with him even convinced a few US lawmakers who made some speeches to call upon Rwanda to “free the Rwigaras!”, (thereby, inadvertently or not, interfering in the judicial processes of a sovereign country – undermining the same independence they purport to support).

All these groups were striving to turn the Rwigaras into a cause célèbre. Himbara’s excitement could barely be controlled. Judi Rever was drooling. “RPF Gakwerere” was slobbering. Museveni propaganda outlets like the “Softpower” website were jumping up and down to draw attention to the Rwigaras. BBC Gahuzamiryango people were reportedly over the moon.

They were preparing – according to our sources – to capitalise on Diane and Mukangemanyi imprisonment “forever”! As far as all this excited gaggle was concerned, the Rwigaras saga was “the Christmas gift that would keep on giving!”

Then on Thursday afternoon in the packed High Court, the judge shocked all of them. The judge upset “their Christmas present,” according to a legal analyst. Their expectation that Father Christmas was just about to hand them a big stick with which to beat Kigali forever turned to ashes, the analyst said.

In a clear, professional, concise manner, the judge read his ruling. On count after count he laid out the facts, showing that the prosecution had provable cases supported by evidence, material and audio. Yet in each case, the court found that, as presented, that evidence failed to meet the high (beyond a reasonable doubt) threshold required to convict in criminal cases.

Diane Rwigara and her mother were both acquitted of the charges of attempting to incite insurrection – with a separate charge of forgery against Diane Rwigara. And her mother too was acquitted on separate charges of divisionism and discrimination.

The prosecution’s evidence on the plan to cause insurrection failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” the intent that the privately exchanged material was intended for public consumption. Similarly, on the forgery charge, forensic evidence couldn’t prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” in favour of the prosecution’s case. Why the prosecution didn’t use witnesses whose signatures were forged who exist out there and instead chose to use forensic evidence was perplexing.

At the end of the day, though the two have been found not guilty, they have not been found innocent either. According to legal analysts, they walk free because the independence of its judiciary and the rigorous application of high standards of legal rules of evidence have worked in their favour.

Any objective observer, whether local or international, that followed the trial of the two women from the start will acknowledge it was fair, professional and independent. Prosecution produced evidence that showed that Diane Rwigara, in support of her failed bid to present herself for elections indeed submitted to the national electoral commission signatures that were forgeries and supporting documents belonging to deceased people. Her mother was heard on audio (and even she acknowledged it was her voice), inciting hatred against the government. She and her mother’s defense that they had uttered such words out of frustration for the loss of a family member should have been denied by court, for instance.

Even with all that however, the two women had been granted bail in spite of the gravity of the charges against them. This, according to legal analysts, was further proof of the independent nature of Rwanda’s judicial system.

The women’s acquittal has caused a lot of embarrassing, though impenitent, reactions from the usual rabble of professional Rwanda detractors. But this category of propagandist Rwanda critics have very little shame. They have quickly jumped on another talking point. “International pressure worked on Rwanda!” they are now screaming. “Pressure worked,” crowed Himbara and others like him.

These people may think they can lie to the world, but Rwanda does not work like that, said a student of law at the University of Rwanda. “Anyway, how can they claim all the time that Rwanda is a terrible place, and that it has ‘the most evil government,’ only to turn around and then say it is susceptible to pressure?” asked the student.

If this were such a government of “unfeelingly heartless bad people”, why would they be concerned about anyone’s opinion? Wouldn’t they just do as any evil government does, and throw the women in prison forever!

An analyst tweeted: “Rwanda’s critics have consistently claimed that the country’s courts simply take orders from President Kagame and other powerful political actors.”

He added: “Already some international activists are trying to take credit for the Rwigara acquittal, claiming that it stems solely from foreign pressure.”

The independence, professionalism and impartiality of Rwanda’s judiciary has badly blindsided the naysayers. Now they are sputtering around, clutching at straws.