The presiding judge in the case involving 25 suspects linked to a terror outfit with bases in Democratic Republic of Congo has set the bail hearing for the accused on October 18, the second adjournment since the case kicked off early this month.
Judge Lt. Col. Charles Madudu set the date after dismissing a request made by the group’s defence team pushing for the trial to be held in a civilian court, claiming that the Military Tribunal lacked juridisction..
The defence team, led by Paula Umulisa who is representing Maj. (rtd) Habib Mudhatiru – the senior-most suspect – questioned the court’s competence to try the accused, arguing that they were supposed to be in an ordinary court since they are civilian, and not military men.
“Mudhatiru is retired (from Rwanda Defence Force). He is no longer a military man. Lawyers for his co-accused have also told me that their clients are civilians. I would like court to ask prosecution why they decided to court-martial civilians,” she stated.
Prosecution told court that there is a case involving a one Private Dieudonné Muhire and four other serving soldiers which is linked to Mudhatiru.
“Considering that the case is already ongoing in the military high court, it means that 25 are also connected to the file as co-accused so they have to be tried by a military court,” they explained.
But the lawyers argued that if the cases have not been linked in the process, then the Military Tribunal has no jurisdiction to try the 25 who are all not members of the military.
Mudhatiru pointed out that while he was aware of the crimes that he was being accused of, he did not know who Muhire was.
“I know why I am here and the crimes that I am being accused of. However, let it be clear that the person you are referring to as Private Dieudonné Muhire is not known to me. I was a member of P5. I hope that you do not try to connect me to FDLR because I have never been a member of FDLR,” he said.
All the suspects face four charges, of forming and being part of an irregular armed group, treason, conspiracy against an established government, and maintaining relations with a foreign government.
The P5 outfit is an amalgamation of negative forces that include Rwanda National Congress (RNC), FDLR, among others and operates training bases in DR Congo.
A report by a UN Group of Experts released in December 2018 indicated that P5 – which is headed by Rwandan dissident Kayumba Nyamwasa – was receiving substantial support from neighbouring Uganda and Burundi.
This account has since been corroborated by many combatants who have been captured and extradited to Rwanda.
After hours of deliberations behind closed doors, Judge Madudu announced that a competent court would determine whether there is a connection between the Mudhatiru and Muhire’s cases but, in the meantime, the trial would continue in the Military Tribunal.
“The Military Tribunal is mandated to try military men and women and any accomplice. This, therefore, means that this trial will continue in this court on October 18, at 9am,” he said.
The suspects are majority Rwandan but they include foreign nationals – three Ugandans, four Burundians and a Malawian.
During the initial hearing the military prosecution said that all the suspects were facilitated mainly by Uganda and Burundi to join the P5 outfit.
Led by South Africa-based fugitive, Nyamwasa, RNC is a terrorist organisation blamed for a spate of grenade attacks in Rwanda between 2010 and 2014 that killed at least 17 people and injured over 400 others.
Nyamwasa is a fugitive from the Rwandan justice, having been tried in absentia, and convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison.