Pleas made to release imprisoned Rwandans

06 September 2019

London church prays for family of jailed brigadier general


The Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, in Kigali, in July. His government has been criticised for imprisoning the men

The Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, in Kigali, in July. His government has been criticised for imprisoning the men

A RWANDAN brigadier general who was sentenced to 20 years in prison three years ago is being prayed for weekly in the church in north London where he once worshipped.

In 2016, a military court in Kigali found Frank Kanyambo Rusagara, a former defence attaché in the UK, guilty of inciting the public to insurrection, tarnishing the image of government while holding an official position, and illegal possession of firearms. He was arrested in 2014, together with Colonel Tom Byabagamba, his brother-in-law, who once served as the head of President Kagame’s security detail and has been sentenced to 21 years.

Both men were also found guilty of spreading the message of the Rwandan National Congress, an opposition group whose members included Patrick Karegeya, a Rwandan dissident assassinated in South Africa. Brigadier Rusagara’s driver, retired Sergeant François Kabayiza, was sentenced to five years for obstructing a criminal investigation.

In a press release issued on the anniversary of her father’s detention (17 August), Brigadier Rusagara’s daughter, Veronica Shandari, called on the Rwandan government to release the men immediately.

She spoke of a military trial “dogged by irregularities and blatant contradictions”, and noted that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had found the detention of her father and Colonel Byabagamba to be in violation of international law. They had been held in solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences to date, she said, and, while their cases were presently before the Court of Appeal in Kigali, “we have no confidence that they will receive a fair hearing”.

“My father is baffled by his continued detention,” she said. “As an early member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, he fought for the downfall of the genocidal regime of Juvénal Habyarimana and played a key role in the reconstruction of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

“He helped draft the post-genocide constitution of Rwanda, and has always been a patriot and model citizen. He believes that he is being persecuted for expressing personal principled opinions while in private conversation with colleagues.”

Brigadier Rusagara, his wife, Christine, and their five children joined Holy Trinity, West Hampstead — now known as The Lighthouse Church — about ten years ago. This week, the Vicar, the Revd Andy Keighley, described them as “much-loved members of the church community”.

Members of the congregation had been “deeply shocked” by Brigadier Rusagara’s arrest and imprisonment “on what appears to be politically motivated grounds”. The family had been left with a loss of income, and Mrs Rusagara died of cancer in 2016. Brigadier Rusagara had not been allowed to see her or return to look after his children. The congregation had supported the family, including the youngest son, Ezra, who began his university studies last year.

“Week by week,” Mr Keighley said, “we are praying for Frank’s release, so that he could rejoin his children after more than five years’ enforced separation.”

“We miss our father terribly,” Ms Shandari said. “Being reunited with our father and uncle would allow us to stage our mother’s final burial rites here in the UK, where she passed away. We were never able to stage these ceremonies because of their detention.”

Human Rights Watch reports that “summary executions, enforced disappearances, unlawful arrest and detention, and torture remain all too common in Rwanda.”

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