Rights group criticizes Rwanda's ruling on former officers

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Human Rights Watch says the decision by Rwanda’s Court of Appeal upholding the conviction of two former high-ranking army officers, who are said to be in failing health, fits a pattern of government repression of critics.

Rwanda’s Military High Court sentenced Col. Tom Byabagamba and retired Brig. Gen. Frank Rusagara in 2016 to 21 years and 20 years in prison, respectively, on charges including insurrection and tarnishing the government’s image. The former allies of President Paul Kagame denied the charges.

Critics have said the charges related to simple criticisms made against Kagame’s government in private.

Human Rights Watch in a statement Monday noted that the appeals court reduced their sentences to 15 years on Dec. 27, but it reiterated concerns about the use of unreliable evidence in their trial.

The rights group also expressed concern about reports of ill treatment and inadequately treated health problems behind bars.

Rwanda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, said Tuesday his government “does not care what Human Rights Watch writes about Rwanda for quite some time.”

Rwanda in June will host the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which will include discussions on governance and rule of law.

“Before they agree to attend the meeting, Rwanda’s international partners should raise their concerns with the Rwandan government about the deliberate targeting of critics both inside and outside the country and its chilling effect,” Human Rights Watch said.

In November, Rwanda’s government rejected a plea by six British members of parliament to release the former army officers on humanitarian grounds, saying they were convicted of serious crimes.

The MPs’ letter said Rusagara suffers from an enlarged prostate and arthritis while Byabagamba has two artificial discs after having major back surgery.

Rwanda’s president replied that the British lawmakers should ask their own courts to try genocide suspects living freely in their backyard before telling Rwanda what to do.