In Rwanda the law is dead. Case of journalist Cyuma Hassan tortured in prison
Alarm: If nothing is done, journalist Dieudonné NIYONSENGA alias Cyuma Hassan will die in prison as a result of torture.
On Wednesday January 10, 2024, journalist Cyuma Hassani appeared in court. The following is a literal translation of the Rwandan-language report by Eric Bagiruwubusa, a journalist of the Voice of America, recounting the events of the court appearance.
The story of journalist Eric BAGIRUWUBUSA
« Journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga, better known as Cyuma Hassan, appeared in the courtroom surrounded by heightened security measures. Despite a resolute smile on his face, unhealed wounds were visible on his forehead. These wounds raised questions about the legitimacy of the trial. Cyuma stressed to the court of appeal that he was being held in inhumane conditions.
During his testimony, Cyuma described his life in Nyarugenge prison as being comparable to a tomb or an abyss, marked by moments of poignant grief and tears. After revealing his identity, his first concern was to find out the identity of the judge responsible for handing down the verdict.
A verbal argument and exchange of arguments broke out between the judge and Cyuma during the hearing:
Cyuma declared, « I have given you my name, and you, who are you? »
The judge replied, « How important is it for you to know my names? »
Cyuma retorted, « I felt like I was being brought before a judge who is not a politician. »
Following these remarks, the judge, visibly upset, immediately asked Cyuma: « Are you ready for trial or not? » To this, Cyuma replied that he was not ready for a trial. He explained that his ears no longer functioned properly due to the beatings he had suffered, and that he had lost his sight due to the conditions of detention in what he described as a pit where the water rose constantly. Despite wearing glasses, he insisted on the after-effects of his detention.
Cyuma tried to elaborate on his explanation of alleged torture in prison, but the judge rejected these details. In response, the judge turned to Cyuma Hassan’s lawyers to ask if he was unaware that he would be tried, rather than brought before what he called politicians.
Cyuma Hassan’s lawyers, Gatera Gashabana and his colleague Jean Bosco Sefu Ntirenganya, said they frequently visited him in prison. However, they pointed out that a problem persisted, as all documents intended for Cyuma were systematically seized by the guards, without being handed over to the prisoner. Gashabana added: « When we go to see him, the guards take all the documents and tell us they’re going to read them first. »
The lawyers pleaded for fair justice, urging the court to guarantee this journalist’s legal rights under the fundamental principles of justice.
Cyuma pleaded with the judge, saying, « The life I lead, the torture I endure, I’m not incarcerated in a prison, I’m locked in a hole. Truly, grant me this opportunity to speak out about the injuries I’ve suffered at the hands of the government. » He took the opportunity to show the judge the wounds visible on his forehead.
In response, the judge replied, « I understand what you’re saying, the public prosecutor’s office is aware of it; if it’s true, we ask the prison officials to take the necessary measures. » Lawyer Sefu Ntirenganya also spoke, declaring, « They’re searching us, it’s scandalous, because it only concerns some prisoners, not all. It’s not blackmail, we are collaborators of justice. Today we see him with scars on his forehead, but last time they were wounds, and they were afraid he would appear in court, forcing them to explain the origin of these wounds. »
Cyuma’s relatives, including his father Primian Rukebesha, were sadly present at the hearing. The court simply wanted to know whether Cyuma Hassan’s defense was ready for the trial. The latter replied that he had no intention of delaying the trial, but stressed that it would be preferable for the court to ask the prison officers to respect the law. The judge’s answers, in a mixture of Kinyarwanda and French, often provoked laughter in the courtroom. Civilians and Cyuma guards alike seemed to find amusement in the exchanges.
Without giving any details, implying that the final decision did not depend on him regarding the elements presented to him, the judge said, « You’ve been arguing for how many minutes, go to the ministers of justice and discuss the problem you have. My job, you know it. »
Cyuma’s lawyers claim to have reported the torture suffered in prison to the relevant authorities, including the Bar Association. Gatera said, « We communicated it to the president of the bar association, and he assured us that he was talking about it to others than those we are mentioning here. »
Cyuma then expressed to the judge, « The law allows you to hear the litigant so he can express his objections. »
The judge interrupted him and said, « There are things that can work and things that cannot. I’m not God, is it possible that what you’re saying is true? » Cyuma replied, « I’m in the hands of the DMI, not in the hands of the prison. »
The judge went on to say, « Even if you have the right, if you have something to ask, wait ahahah, I also have my duties and I also have to listen to the plaintiffs. »
Lawyer Sefu Ntirenganya reminded the judge that the jurisdiction is in a law-abiding country, which is why their requests should be respected. In response, the judge asked for comments from the public prosecutor. The latter replied that this was a matter that did not involve either the court or the prosecution. He pointed out that the problems between Cyuma and the prison should be resolved first. The prosecutor’s office also expressed doubts about the veracity of the allegations put forward by Cyuma and his lawyers, adding that if such situations were found to be true, Cyuma would have the opportunity to appeal, thus informing the prosecution and the court.
Cyuma asserted that the person he was accusing was also the judge in the case. In response, the judge reminded him that repeating the abuse he suffered in prison would not help him. Cyuma Hassani then stressed to the judge that he expected him to have the power to order the prison to stop the torture. At this point, the court judge stopped Cyuma’s security guard, who was present in the courtroom with a firearm, and raised his hand.
Cyuma said, « I’m being watched by the DMI, the other individual, I don’t know him, don’t let him lie to you; they’re men, one of them is in khaki civilian pantsuits with pistols in their pockets, they’ve been hiding, I could see them here. »
The judge replied without hesitation, « Know what you’re saying and when you should say it. »
Cyuma added, « But I’m sad. »
The judge concluded, « I’m sorry, sir. We’ll meet again on February six at nine o’clock. »
The journalist Cyuma Hassan, former head of Ishema TV, has asked for a review of his trial, arguing that he believes his judgment to be unfair, in collaboration with his lawyers. He faces charges of fabrication and use of false documents, usurpation of the office of journalist, and interference in government decisions. As part of its examination of the case, Voice of America has discovered that among the elements it will present is a public statement made by one of the deputies who criticized him when the court had not yet ruled.
MP Murebwayire Christine said these words about Cyuma after his arrest, addressing pupils at an elementary school in the Gakenke district where Cyuma was educated: « There is a man who made very rude remarks, destroying the unity of Rwandans. Do you know him? No… he studied here too, do you know him? No. His name is Hassan Cyuma. Didn’t Cyuma study here? Yes. Didn’t Cyuma study here? Yes. Listen, may he stay forever, where he is. »
Regarding today’s hearing, Mr. Primian Rukebesha, the journalist’s father, shared with the Voice of America his feelings about the reception reserved for his son: « I see that the prison guards are plotting. They are going to end my child’s life with beatings. In my opinion, I thought it was the judge’s role to inform the prison administration and hand over the documents to the child so that he could prepare for his defense in court. Now that I’ve left Gakenke, it’s a long way to come back, and maybe next time it’ll be like today, I’m worried. Every time I visit, I find him in a bad mood, and I go home worried. The other visitors go home happy, but I go home crying. »
Around the courthouse, it’s clear that journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga, alias Cyuma Hassan, enjoys strict protection, both visible and invisible. When a fellow journalist tried to greet him, one of the armed guards warned him that this was not allowed. According to him, Cyuma is considered very dangerous, someone who represents a threat to the country. The guard said, « Do you know Cyuma? » Another replied, « No, I hear about him. » The guard continued, « Don’t you read the papers? He’s very dangerous, even when he comes for his trial, His Excellency the President of the Republic is informed. »
The case will be heard on the 6th of next month. Eric Bagiruwubusa of the Voice of America in Kigali reports this information.
There are a number of salient points to be drawn from this trial:
1. Arrest for denouncing injustice: Cyuma was arrested for giving voice to the voiceless to denounce injustice against them. Her act of giving voice to the voiceless seems to be at the root of her legal troubles.
2. Resilience despite torture: The torture she endured in prison did not discourage Cyuma, who remains firmly attached to her truth. His determination in the face of hardship testifies to his commitment to justice and the defense of fundamental rights.
3. Characterization as « very dangerous » by the RPF: The RPF considers Cyuma an enemy of the country, describing him as « very dangerous ». This characterization underlines the political tension surrounding his case.
4. Judge’s bias: The judge’s responses to Cyuma suggest a certain bias, raising doubts about the fairness of the trial. Cyuma’s lack of confidence in justice is understandable in this context.
5. Violation of Cyuma’s rights: Cyuma’s concerns about his treatment in detention are justified, particularly in view of the conditions of torture he continues to suffer on a daily basis at the hands of the DMI (Direction du Renseignement Militaire). These allegations raise concerns about respect for fundamental rights.
6. Boycotting the constitution: Cyuma’s case highlights a possible violation of the constitution, particularly with regard to the right of every Rwandan to express his or her opinion. The fact that Cyuma is prevented from speaking to his lawyers constitutes an unjust restriction of his legal rights.
In sum, Cyuma’s trial highlights serious concerns about justice, human rights and freedom of expression in Rwanda.
Descriptions of Cyuma’s injuries, his detention in harsh conditions and concerns about alleged executive interference in the judicial system raise serious questions about the fairness and legitimacy of his trial. The acts of torture and ill-treatment publicly denounced by the complainant require a thorough and transparent investigation.
The suspicion that decisions come from the top raises major concerns about the independence of the judicial system. When the country’s president is seen to influence the judicial process, this jeopardizes confidence in justice and reinforces the need for independent investigation.
I call on all Rwandans with a magnanimous heart to stand up and fight against the injustice being done to them. Don’t be naïve, we must shout loud and clear for Cyuma’s health in danger, so that the whole world knows about it. As long as the RPF is still in power, it will be difficult to obtain equitable justice in Rwanda; this is why I invite all Rwandans, wherever they may be, to stand up as one man and combine their efforts to drive the RPF from power and thus put an end to the ordeal the Rwandan people have been enduring for nearly thirty years.
Member of FDU INKINGI
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