I must commend Mrs. Mary Gahonzire, head of the Rwandan Prison Service. A month or two back I had the opportunity to sit with the charming lady and interview her about the state of Rwanda’s prison system. Various organization criticize prisons in this country, calling them overcrowded death traps. Well, she told me that, when compared with many other prison systems in the world, we didn’t do too badly. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross have us credit for the improvements they’d made. Prisoners these days enjoy meals that are nutritionally balanced, prison workshops in places such as Huye teach prisoners life skills such as carpentry and those that suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS have access to good medical care.
However, despite all these improvements I have to say this, I don’t want to EVER have to spend a single day locked up. But I guess not everyone is as discerning as I am. On Monday, I attended the beginning of the Victoire Ingabire criminal trial at the Kigali High Court where she is being accused of funding terrors groups, causing state insecurity and genocide denial. I expected a few fireworks as I sat down next to in the audience chamber, but even I was shocked when the alleged terrorist stood up to speak. She told the presiding judge, Angelline Rutazana, that she wanted the trial to be adjourned for five more monnhs. This from someone demanding a quick trial. I actually felt bad for her co-defendants,Major Vital Uwumuremyi, Colonel Tharcisse Nditurende, Lieutenant Jean Marie Karuta and Lt Colonel Noeli Habyaremye, all former FDLR. They all had their lawyers present and were revving to go. But they couldn’t because she hadn’t had the chance to read her entire dossier. Mind you, she had had it for five months.
Well, the good judges decided to adjourn the court session for 35 days so that the ‘opposition leader’ could finally finish preparing her defence. The look on her face said it all, she was disappointed. I don’t know about you, but beginning a court session in a months’ time is a lot better than beginning one in five. But of course, logical reasoning isn’t something that I can take for granted these days.
The same could be said about some of my fellow Rwandans living in Belgium. A press release send by SOCIRWA (Rwandan Civil Society) and CLIIR (Centre for the Struggle Against Impunity and Injustice in Rwanda) informed me that Ingabire supporters would march on the Rwandan embassy, form a ring around it by holding hands and force the Rwandan government to ‘release her’. According to the press release, it is also an opportunity to FDU-Inkingi members and well-wishers to ‘support her’. Well, here is some free advice. What she needs isn’t a candle-lit vigil with people singing Kumbaya, she needs better lawyers. Or at least lawyers that care enough about her case to actually attend the first court session. And while she is at it, why not get lawyers that actually understand Kinyarwanda? As a National University of Rwanda law graduate, I can tell you that I’ve studied with extremely formidable colleagues. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to utilize these sharp legal minds. Say what you will about Rwandan graduates, it wouldn’t have taken any of us more than a month to read 2000 pages of documents; your lawyers are plain lazy.
Or maybe they are not. I happened to watch a video of the Dutch Ambassador to Rwanda visiting her cell a few weeks back. Any student in any Rwandan university would kill to have a room like that. Her temporary home has a private shower, toilet, a comfy bed and a window. Throw in the fact that she gets supplies from her family and friends and you’ve got a five-star facility. Maybe neither she nor her lawyers are incompetent. Maybe, Mrs. Gahonzire is treating her too well and she’s loath to leaving government hospitality’s warm bosom.