Kigali- Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s former bodyguard has been sentenced to life in prison by a military court in Kigali for involvement in terrorism, forming an armed group and attempting to incite the public against the state.
Lt Joel Mutabazi was sentenced together with his co-accused Joseph Nshimiyimana. Lt Mutabazi was also convicted for murder, illegal possession of a firearm and deserting the military.
The military court also ruled that Lt Mutabazi be stripped of his military rank.
The ruling on Friday finally put to rest Lt Mutabazi’s trial which had taken nearly nine months. The trial was characterised by testimony retractions by the suspect. The military judge, Maj Bernard Rugamba Hakizimana, found him guilty on all the charges.
The Israeli- trained commando fled the country in October 2011 and sought refuge in Kampala after alleging persecution in Kigali.
Lt Mutabazi was arrested in Kampala in 2013 and his controversial extradition to Kigali under dubious circumstances made headlines in the media and attracted attention of rights groups in the region and of the diplomatic corps.
During the trial last month, Lt Mutabazi reiterated his earlier plea of “not guilty” on all the charges. He told the military court that the confession statements he had made during interrogations were extracted under duress.
He had requested court not to consider the request of the prosecution who sought life imprisonment for him.
He argued that the main evidence relied on by the military prosecution were statements he made during the interrogation process, during which he admitted almost all the charges.
When he first appeared in court in November last year, Lt Mutabazi disowned the confessions.
“How can people who forcefully kidnapped me from Uganda fail to use all force at their disposal to make me write a statement confessing to crimes I never committed?” Lt Mutabazi pondered in court.
He denied deserting the army as prosecutors alleged but said he fled the country to save his life, which was being threatened.
He said he had been detained incommunicado at Kami Military Barracks for about 17 months and subjected to torture. He said that upon his release, he was not allowed to reunite with his family and was instead taken to another detention facility.
It was not clear how Lt Mutabazi, who was under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ended up in custody of the Uganda police who later handed him over to the Rwanda government security operatives.
Police from both countries had earlier alleged that Lt Mutabazi had been on Kigali’s wanted list over an alleged bank robbery in 2011. But Rwandan police later said investigations had linked him to new charges including grenade attacks in Kigali.
He previously claimed political persecution by the Kigali government and had sought asylum in Uganda, which had been granted. His eligibility for refugee status was still under review although the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda and the UNHCR office were managing his welfare.
At the time of his extradition, Mr Douglas Asiimwe, a senior refugee protection officer in the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, said Lt Mutabazi was “kidnapped” without their knowledge, a claim both countries denied.
He lived with his family at Sky Hotel in Naalya, a Kampala suburb, before he was arrested and extradited.