The Military High Court, yesterday, sentenced Col Tom Byabagamba to 21 years in jail and stripped him of his military rank, while Brig Gen (rtd) Frank Rusagara was handed a 20-year jail sentence, after they were both found guilty of all the charges against them.
The third suspect, Francois Kabayiza, was sentenced to five years in prison after he was absolved of the charge on illegal possession of firearms but convicted for a single charge of concealing objects which were used or meant to commit an offence.
“Colonel Byabagamba will also be stripped of his military rank,” ruled the bench that was led by Maj Asiimwe Madudu.
Byabagamba, who once headed the Republican Guards, was accused of tarnishing the image of the state as a leader, public insurrection, illegal possession of firearms, contempt of coats of guards, and concealing evidence in a criminal case.
Rusagara stood accused of public insurrection that amounted to tarnishing the image of the country and illegal possession of firearms, a crime for which he was jointly convicted with Byabagamba.
Byabagamba, it was heard during the trial, on several occasions, uttered statements tarnishing the state, some of which occurred as he was on a tour of duty in South Sudan, where he once served in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Several officers who served with him at the time in Juba testified for prosecution during the trial.
Specifically, Byabagamba, on top of the utterances he made against the state, was accused of denigrating the national flag while on duty in the South Sudanese capital Juba, where he deliberately refused to salute as it was being hoisted during an official function.
For Rusagara, it was stated that on several occasions he circulated material, mainly through his email, most of which propaganda based on mere rumors, with an aim of tarnishing the image of the state.
The charge of illegal possession of firearms stemmed from two guns that Rusagara kept at his home and which, after his arrest, were picked by Kabayiza who then took them to Byabagamba. The latter also never declared the guns.
Court summarized all counts and prosecution submissions against the suspects with reference to article 84 of the Penal Code regarding concurrence of offences, especially with respect to Rusagara and Byabagamba and stated that they would serve concurrently the sentences for each of the crimes they were convicted.
“When an offender is convicted and each of the charge on which they are found culpable attracts a jail sentence, the judge can pick the most severe of the penalties and either increase or reduce it depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances,” ruled the judge.
Meanwhile, Kabayiza, a former driver to Rusagara, was also slapped with a Rwf500,000 fine on top of his prison sentence.
Shortly after the ruling the trio immediately said they were not satisfied with the verdict and vowed to appeal (to the Supreme Court).
Both Rusagara and Byabagamba, it had emerged during the trial, had on several occasions been warned against their actions but, according to prosecution, they had turned a deaf ear.