KIGALI - Joseph Ntawangundi, Victoire Ingabire’s assistant, has pleaded guilty to Genocide-related charges before a Gacaca court of Gitwe, Eastern Provinc. He was sentenced to 17 years.
According to the president of the Gitwe Gacaca court, Celestin Turinabo, after weeks of claiming that he was a victim of mistaken identity, Ntawangundi finally owned up, pleaded guilty and asked for forgiveness.
“On March 19, he wrote a letter in which he admitted the charges and asked for forgiveness from the court, for wasting our time by disowning his identity. He sought forgiveness from the woman he abandoned at Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania,” said Turinabo.
Ntawangundi had disowned the woman with whom he has a 15-year old daughter, in court, claiming that he did not know her.
“His guilty plea led to the reduction of his original 19-year sentence passed in absentia in 2007 to 17 years”.
The former Principal of EAVE-GITWE, an agro veterinary college, was arrested in February after featuring in the news media, following a fracas he and Ingabire were involved in at Kinyinya Sector in Gasabo District.
Following the incident, Ingabire, with whom Ntawangundi arrived in the country to register their political party, posted his photo on the internet and broadcast his name on many radio stations. Ananias Simugomwa, a resident of Gitwe immediately recognised him.
“I had not heard of him for many years until his name was mentioned on the BBC after he got involved in a fight at Kinyinya. I was shocked and I immediately alerted the police that he was wanted by the Gacaca court in our village which had sentenced him to 19 years,” Simugomwa told Contact FM and The New Times during an investigative report that exposed the convict.
Victoire Ingabire, the president of the yet-to-be-registered party, FDU-Inkingi, immediately went on the warpath, accusing the government of using Gacaca as a tool to suppress political opposition.
In a press statement titled; “New Times, a judge and jury, exploiting forged Gacaca evidence, to make more victims”, Ingabire attacked The New Times accusing it of maligning her by using what she described as fabricated evidence against Ntawangundi, an innocent man, “who was not in the country during the Genocide”.
“He never officiated in the education sector in Rwanda, in any capacity whatsoever. He has never been school director in Gitwe during the genocide, as claimed by the paper. Either the reporters have been mislead (sic), or they deliberately want to mislead the readers for their own agenda,” she claimed on her website.
Ingabire has consistently demonstrated her deep-seated revulsion for Gacaca, attacking the courts at every turn, describing them as “shackles”.
Ntawangundi’s admission of guilt, in light of Ingabire’s spirited defence on his behalf, goes a long way to demonstrate her revisionist character.
Observers believe that Ingabire’s hatred for Gacaca is motivated largely by her own mother, Therese Nikuze’s, role in the Genocide against the Tutsi, and her subsequent conviction to life in prison, several years ago.
“Even if our position about Gacaca has not changed, we hope that it has not fallen this low to condemn an innocent who was not even in Rwanda during the genocide, and for crimes committed in a place he has never been to,” she said of Ntawangundi’s arrest.
Ingabire later retracted her statements after the Contact FM/ The New Times exposed Ntawangundi’s true story. She claimed that he had “misled” her about his past.
Ingabire herself in under investigations by police for her alleged links to a terrorist organisation after a UN report, released in November 2009, named her as one of the key supporters of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), remnants of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe militia who spearheaded the 1994 Genocide that left over a million dead.