Rwanda Information Portal

Kagame’s Judicial System Naked in Ingabire’s Trial: Defense Right Denied

by Aimable Mugara

November 1, 2011 – Imagine if you were on trial for crimes punishable with up to 30 years in jail. Imagine if the judges then told your lawyers that the lawyers have no right to cross-examine the state’s so-called witnesses. This is what happened this week in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda where opposition leader Mrs. Victoire Ingabire is on trial. Mrs. Ingabire is on trial for charges widely considered by human rights activists worldwide as politically-motivated. Originally, when the defense lawyers asked for time to do cross-examination of the state’s witnesses, the judge had granted this wish. In fact, the judge called up the first witness to take the stand.

As the witness approached the stand to be cross-examined, something quite strange happened. The prosecutor protested. The exchange between the prosecutor and the judge made it clear who is the boss in that court. In order to placate the prosecutor, who is clearly the one in charge, the judge asked the defense to submit written questions to the judge in advance. Once the judge has had time to review the questions (days, not hours), the judge will then decide which questions the defense can ask the witnesses and which questions should not be asked. If you are thinking that the judge will pass these questions over to the so-called witnesses during that period, you are probably right. After all, for politically-motivated charges we need to make sure that the so-called witnesses have enough days to rehearse their answers.

The entire charade was a stark reminder of the show trials that took place in the Soviet Union in 1936 to 1939. In an essay by Gudrun Persson, it is said that “Stalin had won the struggle for power and was now dealing death blows to the opposition by organizing uncontrolled terror at every level of society. The purges carried out within the party, the army, among members of the scientific community, artists and prominent cultural figures came to be known as the Great Terror. The term is actually bizarre; terror is hardly a rank great or small but absolute: once it has taken root in a social system it spreads and acquires a life of its own.”

Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame: “I don’t care”

You can easily replace the word Stalin with the words General Kagame and the above context will remain accurate while describing today’s Rwanda. Rwanda’s society is so terrorized and in order to keep the masses terrorized, General Kagame’s regime makes it a point of crushing every single opposition leader that dares speak out against the government. It is in this context that the Stalin-style show trials have been taking place, with each opposition leader being locked up one after another despite their glaringly obvious innocence.

But then again, the self-proclaimed president of Rwanda, General Kagame recently told BBC that “any elections are better than no elections at all.” He was referring to last year’s so-called presidential elections where all real opposition political parties were banned from participating and all opposition leaders jailed. Elections that were preceded by the beheading of the Rwandan Green Party’s Vice-President. Elections that were preceded by the killing of a journalist, the jailing of several other journalists, the shutting down of the few remaining independent newspapers and the expulsion from the country of a Human Rights Watch researcher. According to General Kagame, such elections are better than no elections at all. So, by the same logic, Mrs. Victoire Ingabire should apparently be grateful that she had any “trial” at all, instead of being summarily executed like the millions of Rwandans and Congolese that have been killed by General Kagame’s soldiers in the past 21 years. The question on General Kagame’s mind today seems to be a very simple one. Why can’t opposition leader Mrs. Victoire Ingabire quietly go to jail where all opposition leaders belong, pretty please?

[Rwanda Human Rights]

Related:

Rwanda: Ingabire’s Defense Counsel Denied Cross-Examination Right

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