On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the trial of journalist Phocas Ndayizera and his 12 co-accused began. The trial that should have started on September 18 was already postponed twice. At the beginning of the hearing, when the judge asked the accused if they acknowledged the facts alleged against them, they pleaded not guilty, thus retracting the confessions they had made during the investigation phase. The prosecutor unprepared for this development had difficulty substantiating the facts alleged individually against each accused. He then requested a break in the trial to consolidate the prosecution case. To the 13 accused who were known on the day of the trial, the prosecutor added three new persons, Jules Binunimana, Alexis Kwitonda and Tembo. They will be tried in absentia, as the prosecutor has informed them that he does not know where they are. The trial will resume on 28 November 2019.
November 21, 2018: Disappearance and Reappearance of Phocas NDAYIZERA
On November 25, 2018, the disappearance of freelance journalist Phocas NDAYIZERA, who was freelancing for the local BBC-Gahuzaradio station, was made public by his wife. He left his home on November 21, 2018 to travel to the city of Muhanga in the southern province of Rwanda. On the fourth day of her husband’s disappearance, and while the RIB (Rwanda Investigation Bureau) was telling her that they did not know what might have happened to her husband and that the investigation was ongoing, Chantal Mukarugira spoke to BBC-Gahuzaduring an interview and made the disappearance of her husband public.
After several media, including Jambonews, covered the disappearance,the international community began to take an interest in the case. Tthree days later, on November 28, 2018, the Rwandan Police paraded Phocas Ndayizera in front of the press. Tired, with an emotionally charged voice, Phocas Ndayizera said that he did not know why he had been arrested, “It was noon. I was arriving at the Nyamirambo Stadium when I was arrested. I don’t know where they took me, or where I was imprisoned. I don’t know why. ” Through its then spokesman Modetse Mbabazi, the Rwandan policeadmitted that it was they who had been detaining the journalist during the week and that he was being prosecuted for terrorist acts. Showing boxes with explosives inside, Modeste Mbabazi explained, “What you see are dynamites he had on him, which he was going to get into Nyamirambo Stadium.” Regarding police silence, he explained that investigations into terrorist acts followsome specific procedures.
21 December 2018: presentation before the Court and the mystery of 12 co-accused
On December 21, 2018, Phocas Ndayizera’s first public hearing was held at the Nyarugenge Court of First Instance. To everyone’s surprise, he was accompanied by 12 co-accused, whose families informed the media that their relatives had so far disappeared. I was the first time in 30 days that they had seen or heard from them. The judge informed the audience that during the first hearings held behind closed doors, the accused had confessed to being responsible for the acts they were accused of and revealed that they had been influenced by people in the Rwandan opposition. Furthermore, they would ask for forgiveness during their defence. Phocas Ndayizera even confessed to having connived with Cassien Ntamuhanga to commit terrorist acts.
Cassien Ntamuhanga was the director Amazing Grace, a Rwandan Christian radio station. He was arrested in 2014, and he and Kizito Mihigo were accused of conspiring against the Rwandan state. He wassentenced to 25years in prison. He managed to escape from Mpanga prison on October 31, 2017 before going into exile abroad. Therefore, the prosecutor had informed the court that Phocas Ndayizera was Cassien Ntamuhanga’s childhood friend and schoolmate, and that their friendship underlaytheir plot against the Rwandan state. According to the prosecutor’s office, Cassien Ntamuhanga had asked Phocas Ndayizera to find ways to destroy the infrastructure with explosives. The targeted infrastructurewould have included power plants, gasoline reservoirs, and other public infrastructures. According to the prosecutor, some of the co-accused young people wanted to join the “Ntamuhanga army,” which was operating in a country neighbouring Rwanda.
Given the seriousness of the crimes alleged against the accused, the court ended the session by deciding to keep them in detention pending their trial.
December 22, 2018: Cassien Ntamuhanga Lifts the Veil
Following the trial hearing on December 2018, Tharcisse Semana, a Rwandan journalist living in exile, questioned Cassien Ntamuhanga about his connections with Phocas Ndayizera. Ntamuhanga confirmed that they grew up together and attended the same primary school. Regarding his friend’s confession and the Rwandan prosecutor’s allegations, Cassien Ntamuhanga recalled the emotional harassment he and Kizito Mihigo had suffered in 2014, “From the beginning, I did not cooperate with them. Before they paraded us in front of the press, they showed Kizito and me the press release and told us, ‘Kids, we did everything for you, we paid your school fees, and you have good jobs today. Now, you are starting to associate yourselves with people in the Rwandan opposition. If you confess to the charges brought against you, we will rehabilitate you to reintegrate into society and allow you to return to your workplace.’” For Ntamuhanga, Phocas Ndayizera’s first statement of November 28 is the one that counts.
In the same program he revealed that Phocas Ndayizera and the 12 co-accused were members of a movement called “RANP- Abaryankuna” (Rwandan Alliance for The National Pact), a movement formed in 2013 by Rwandan youth with the desire to influence the future of Rwanda. Cassien Ntamuhanga is one of the founding members of the movement. According to him, this is the reason that both sent him to prison and led the Rwandan authorities to want to discredit his name. Jambonewswill soon cover to the “Abaryankuna” movement
The co-accused of Phocas Ndayizera are Elmereki Karangwa, Patrick Niyihoza, Martin Munyensanga, Elias Ngarama, Théoneste Nkurikiyimfura, Garno Byiringiro, Yves mushimiyimana, Ernest Nshiragahinda, Terrence, Emmanuel Niyonkuru, and Jean Claude Nshimiyimana.
September 18, 2019: Nyanza Regional Court, the trial postponed.
On September 18, 2019, the first day of the trial of Phocas Ndayizera and the 12 co-accused was scheduled for the terrorist section of the Nyanza High Court in southern Rwanda. The trial was postponed to October 29, 2019, because the IT had been out of order for two months in Kigali prison, where the accused were being held. As result, none of them had been able to review their case before the hearing.
Of the 13 persons, the Rwandan justice having decided to add Cassien Ntamuhanga to the list of accused and to judge him in absentia, only Ndayizera and another accused have a lawyer. The other 10 have informed the court that they cannot afford to pay a lawyer. The judge considered that it is the role of the Rwandan State to appoint and assign lawyers to defend the accused and that if in the future the 10 come without their lawyers, they will be considered as willing to defend themselves.
Reacting to the first day of the trial, Cassien Ntamuhanga, who has since become the movement’s coordinator, said, “Kagame and his RPF, their system, these judges or other Rwandan leaders, should not judge the Abaryankuna. A demon should not judge an angel.»
October 29, 2019: new postponement
On October 29, 2019, the second day of the trial took place under high security. The court was guarded by many heavily armed military and prison guards. The accused entered the courtroom with their arms handcuffed and their legs chained. Phocas Ndayizera, the first to appear, said that he wanted to change his lawyer and claimed not to possess the entire indictment file. One of his lawyers told BBC Gahuzathat what caused the termination of their contract was mutually agreed upon and a matter of professional secrecy.
Judge Antoine Muhima, who presided over the trial, demanded that these problems, change of lawyers, and access to the indictment files be resolved before the next hearing. The trial was postponed until November 19, 2019. The judge warned Phocas Ndayizera that this was the last time the trial would be adjourned. For his part, Phocas Ndayizera has go ahead with the trial next time, with or without his new lawyers.
The first day of the trial took place on this November 19, 2019. The trial will resumed this November 28 2019.