By Rodrigue Rwirahira
Prosecution has requested the High Court to conduct the trial of 44 alleged Islamic terrorists in-camera, citing security concerns.
The group, that includes five females, faces five counts, including membership in a terrorist organisation, complicity in a terrorist act, formation of a criminal gang, financing terrorism and of non-compliance with laws.
The case was supposed to begin in substance on Wednesday but there objection when prosecution requested the proceedings to be held behind closed doors.
“If it is heard in public, we fear it may pose a threat to state security,” said Ndibwami Rugambwa, one of the two prosecutors in the case.
He added that they did not intend to entirely keep the proceedings a secret saying that the ruling will be made public at a later stage.
Defence lawyers, however, prayed that court disregards the request, saying justice should be seen being done and that it was in their clients’ best interest to make the case public.
The proceedings on Wednesday were followed by several members of the Islamic faith.
“We believe in the principles of justice for all. The prosecution should explain how national security will be threatened if this case is held in public,” said Augustin Kabila, one of the defence lawyers.
“This case was previously held in-camera, and we agreed because it was at the pre-trial stage. But since it has now reached trial and prosecution has all the evidence, why should it be held behind closed doors?” he wondered.
The case was first heard by Gasabo Intermediate Court in March last year, when there were only 17 suspects but as investigations continued, the number grew to 44.
Prosecution said the terror network was spread across the country, and further arrests had to be made.
After several of appeals on their continuous detention, the prosecution secured at least six extensions as it gathered more evidence.
Suzan Busogi Kadali, another lawyer for the defendants, said three of the accused were below the age of 18 and should be considered minors and their case transferred to a specialised court for children.
“My first objection is to have the case of my clients, three children, be tried behind closed doors. I am also asking court to send their cases to a specialised chamber for children at the Gasabo Intermediate Court,” she argued.
But the prosecution objected, saying the charges were intertwined and should be tried together by a competent court, regardless of who was involved.
The High Court bench, chaired by Antoine Muhima, will deliberate on the submissions and pronounce itself on requests from both sides on March 15.
Over the past few months, the Rwanda Muslim Council, together with the National Police and other stakeholders, have been traversing the country preaching against radicalism that government and Muslim leaders say has been creeping among local Muslim youths.