Victoire Ingabire in court, with the shaved head and pink gown of Rwandan prisoners.
KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: Rwandan political prisoner and opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has refused to continue playing the role of defendant in her show trial in Rwandan President Paul Kagame's kangaroo court and asked her lawyers not to return either. Ingabire has been in prison for almost two years, and on trial for the past six months, for challenging the Constitutionally codified history of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the injustice of its aftermath in both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. KPFA's Ann Garrison has the story.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Victoire Ingabire issued a statement saying that she had lost all faith in the Rwandan justice system, that she would not return to the courtroom and that she had asked her lawyers to do the same, after Rwandan security intimidated her first witness, Michel Habimana, a former FDLR militia commander now serving life in a Rwandan prison. Habimana was interrogated, his cell was searched, and he was ordered from the courtroom after testifying that Ingabire had never had any contact with the FDLR militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whom she is accused of conspiring with to commit terrorist acts in Rwanda.
Habimana also testified that the prosecution's lead witness was lying about his own contact with Ingabire and his own rank within the FDLR. Ingabire's British lawyer Iain Edwards, speaking to KPFA from London, said that Habimana had no doubt given this testimony at great risk to himself, even though he is already serving life in prison. Edwards also described one of Rwanda's unique rules of court, which he said most any other court in the world would consider a violation of a defendant's right to fair trial:
Iain Edwards: There are various rules of procedure that would almost universally be thought of as very much a violation of a defendant's fair trial rights. The rule in Rwanda that a person against whom the prosecution have reason to believe is guilty of an offense . . . such a person is unable to provide sworn testimony before the judges. The judges can in practice hear such a person, who is suspected of being guilty of a crime, but only by way of a person providing information. Consequently, their "evidence" will necessarily be given significantly less weight.
On the first day in court the prosecution argued that Victoire Ingabire's lawyers Iain Edwards, left front and Gatera Gashebana, right front, could not be trusted because they were defending a suspected criminal, Victoire Ingabire, center.
KPFA: Well there was one point in this trial when it was reported that the prosecution stood up and said that Victoire's testimony couldn't be trusted, because she's a genocide criminal, meaning guilty of genocide ideology and. . . and that you shouldn't be trusted, you and Gatera Gashebana, because you were defending a criminal.
Iain Edwards: That was at the very beginning of the trial. That was a really bizarre afternoon in court.
KPFA: For Ingabire herself, Edwards had nothing but praise:
Iain Edwards: She's been an absolute joy to represent. She is an extraordinarily courageous woman. She's an intelligent woman. She's a fiercely independent woman. She's a person that I've got on extremely well with. She's loyal and it's my very firm belief that what she wants is the very best for the Rwandan people. She makes absolutely no distinction whatsoever between Hutu, Tutsi, Twa. She sees the Rwandan people as simply that, the Rwandan people.
She wants peace in her country. She wants the population to live in harmony. Where there are differences, to embrace those differences, and to live with those differences, but fundamentally to live in peace and harmony.
She wants there to be reconciliation in Rwanda, something which just does not exist in the way that the government likes to portray it as existing. And, in order to achieve that goal, she is prepared to act with complete selflessness. She knew that she ran a very very high risk of being arrested and imprisoned when she traveled from the Netherlands to Rwanda, in January of 2010.
Victoire Ingabire's supporters will ask the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to declare her a political prisoner.
KPFA: In her statement, Ingabire said, "Shall I die or live, be detained or freed, what we have achieved will never go back. This movement is even stronger than I am." Rwandan refugees all over the world have thanked her for finally making it possible for them to tell their stories, and her supporters will now seek to have her declared a political prisoner by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.