THE TESTIMONY OF CASSIEN NTAMUHANGA
A Persecuted Christian Journalist From Rwanda
My name is Cassien Ntamuhanga, I was a journalist and Managing Director of Amazing Grace Christian radio broadcasting from Kigali Rwanda, since 2009. On April 07,2014 I was kidnapped alongside with my colleague Gerald Niyomugabo who was a researcher on religion and history of Rwanda, author and a university professor and we were both held incommunicado in unknown safe house where we were tortured for the whole week.
During that time the press and some members of our respective families announced our missing but the police denied any implication. After a week, the police accepted publicly that I was within its custody and presented me to the press but they didn’t show the whereabouts of my colleague Gerald Niyomugabo, and up to now, 4 years later no news about him!
At that time, I realized that the police had arrested another famous singer Kizito Mihigo and held him in the same circumstances. And we were immediately prosecuted in the case they named “Kizito Mihigo and his coaccused “, on different charges among others, forming a criminal gang, conspiracy against the established government or president, complicity in a terrorist act and conspiracy to murder. During our held in safe house, the police extracted each of us to confession under duress and requested us to confess once we arrived in the court before the judge. When we arrived to the court I pleaded “not guilty” on all charges, but my colleague Kizito Mihigo pleaded guilty and dismissed his lawyers expecting that the government will keep its promise to release him but it was in vain. With unfair trial as it has been noticed by many observers, the Kigali High court sentenced Kizito Mihigo to 10 years in prison, and as for me they sentenced me to 25 years in prison. There was another former soldier named Dukuzumuremyi Jean Paul who was brought in our case from nowhere to 30 years in prison.
The real reasons of our imprisonment:
1. Gerald as a researcher and I as a journalist and director of a radio, we did many different radio shows in which we used to point out the reality and truth about the country and its situations in different corners of its life contradicting some lies preached by the government. Gerald who was also my best friend, was a famous wise person who was sought after by many radios talk shows, they used to invite him in different programs to talk about different issues. One day, in a show on Rwandan television, with Kizito Mihigo in the program called “Umusanzu w’umuhanzi”(The role of an artist) which program was initiated by Kizito Mihigo Foundation for Peace (KMP), they openly criticized the way the commemoration of genocide is observed, where some people think that the genocide was the tragedy against Tutsi, while it is a tragedy against the whole country. In the same show, they denounced the attitude of accusing one side, while each part played its negative role: the government of Rwanda never tolerates anybody who points out its role in genocide and this was a big crime!
2. A few days before the start of 20th commemoration of genocide, Kizito Mihigo published a song titled “Igisobanuro cy’urupfu” (The meaning of death) which drew a terrible anger to the government’s authorities which quickly banned it. And they banned all his songs as well. The song contained some ideas showing that the justice should be given to everyone evenly, and whoever committed crimes should be punished. I can here mention a part of the song that might have driven mad the authorities of Rwanda: “…Though the genocide orphaned me let it not make me lose empathy for others, their lives too were brutally taken but not qualified as genocide. Those brothers and sisters, they too are human beings. I play for them, I comfort them, I remember them. Death is never good: be it by the genocide, war or slaughtered in revenge killings…” The government of Rwanda never tolerates anybody who points out their role in genocide, they do not tolerate anyone who advocates for the victims of massacres of people killed by Kagame’s RPF forces(Rwanda Patriotic Front: ex rebels who seized power after 1994 war and genocide in Rwanda) and thousands of them died in revenge killings by Kagame’s army.
3. They year 2014 in which we were arrested, it was the year in which the former chief of intelligence of Rwanda Patrick Karegeya, exiled in South Africa was found dead in his Hotel. During that time, the government crackdown was growing and they were trying to silence everyone and simply eliminating whoever the government thinks is dissident and have any influential background in the country. As for us, we were taken among those people the government considered as a threat because we were free thinkers, we spoke our minds and we wanted to contribute to the development of our country. There was one of my old classmate, a best friend who fled Rwanda to South Africa and joined RNC(Rwanda National Congress) An opposition political party based in South Africa. By only chatting with him through Skype and WhatsApp, that made us criminals in their eyes and that is what they called “forming a criminal gang”.
The independent people and international non-governmental organizations that followed our case, found it as a case that was politically motivated, and unfair trial was rendered to us.
A. After the verdict, The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in their reports of the year 2014/2015 criticized the conduct of criminal proceeding, denouncing the illegal detention, torture and the politization of our trial. They clearly qualified it as “an unfair trial”.
B. Reporters without borders that followed the case since the first day I was reported missing, was appalled to learn that a Kigali court has sentenced me to 25 years in prison for allegedly conspiracy against the government. Reporters without borders condemned the verdict and requested that the decision of Kigali court should be reviewed on appeal. I will in this letter tell you why I didn’t wait for appeal.
C. In a resolution adopted by European Parliament in single reading on October 06, 2015; the institution condemned politically motivated trials and attack on freedom of expression in Rwanda . The case of Victoire Ingabire( The president of FDU-Inkingi, a political party based in Europe, who came in Rwanda to participate in election got jailed instead) and the case of Kizito Mihigo and his coaccused were mentioned among many others. The Euro MPs urged the Rwandan authorities immediately to “release all individuals and other activists detained or convicted solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression” but in vain.
Even though many international organizations including big countries like United States and United Kingdom reacted favorably on our case, requesting our release or simply normalizing our trial to get a fair judgment, nothing was done and I personally I saw the opposite.
D. After arriving in prison, the secret services and the prison officials did not stop to harass me. They went even farther and persecuted anybody who dared to come to visit me to the prison. Here I can give you one example of one of my journalists colleague who came to visit me and immediately the harassment of all kind started on him. He definitely fled the country and by now is living in German. His name is Jean Ngendahimana.
E. In the prison, I got many bad and inhuman treatment and International Red Cross (ICRC) can testify on this for me, because it has documented many cases.
I have been in cells inside the prison for many days, and many many times, for no reasons at all.
I have been moved in four different prisons around the country, in order to destabilize me both physically and psychologically. In those unexpected relocation, you miss your stuff that help you in prison life, especially those not provided by the prison’s authorities. Another reason of my frequency moves were to discourage my friends and relatives from visiting me and try to make them tired and give up to come to visit me! Those acts aiming to isolate me and take me far from my family, I saw in it something weird, dangerous and very suspicious.
F. All those here above I could bear and I endured. But on October 04, 2016, the secret services kidnapped my three brothers that I considered as my own children, because I was their official guardian for many years. Those young men aged between 22 and 27 by the time they went missing (Ngabo Fikiri Jimmy, Moses Ngabonziza and Joel Mituyimana) and this made me go crazy. I realized “oh, there is nothing and no one I have remaining with me”. And I knew they were kidnapped because of me! Those young kids, innocent live; my little brothers who would not give up visiting me, no matter how it was difficult for them, no matter how further they moved me and regardless of the intimidation imposed on them by the government… my best friends who would not let me go! Not they are no where to be found.
I was convinced in my heart that if they could kidnap my brothers after they put me in prison for fabricated charges, keep harassing me and so on, waiting for appeal would be in vain and truly it was in vain because there is NO JUSTICE IN RWANDA.
G. In August 2017, a few days before I escaped the prison, the Nyanza prison’s Authorities orchestrated and supervised the killing of two prisoners and many others were injured by their colleagues prisoners and then reported that it was a simple misunderstanding erupted among prisoners, and killed one another! That was a pure lie. I was present and I know everything about that and also ICRC has followed the case and documented it: This, for me as a person living under unceasing harassment made me afraid. And that reminded me the story of Dr Gasakure from the University Medical Hospital who was a former personal doctor for president Paul Kagame! The poor doctor was executed by a policemen in police custody on February 25,2015. And the case was closed. No investigation, and no follow up whatsoever.
All these points I mentioned here above pushed me to be bold and to plan to escape. And by the help of Almighty God, I managed to get out of the prison and out of the country. It was in the news all over the country!
NOW MY LIFE IS IN DANGER — I AM SENDING SOS TO THE GOD FEARING NATIONS OF THE EARTH!
1. The government of Rwanda through its secret services, is known of following the Rwandan fugitives abroad and kill them from there, or kidnap them and bring them back to Rwanda, where their lives immediately get in danger. They also work with some corrupted people in exile nations and then people go missing.
For example, in Mozambique in the City of Maputo, a Rwandan fugitive Théogène Turatsinze (the former Director of the Rwanda Development Bank: BRD) was found dead in unknown circumstances. In South Africa, ex Chief Army Staff, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, exiled there and has survived two attacks and the court in South Africa confirmed that Government of Rwanda people were behind his assassination attempts.
Colonel Patrick Karegeya ex Chief intelligence was found dead in a hotel in South Africa.
Minister Seth Sendashonga and Colonel Theoneste Lizinde, who was MPs in Rwandan Parliament, both were killed in Kenya.
Charles Ingabire Director of Inyenyeri News, was killed in Kampala Uganda,… and many others, the list is very long.
Very recently, the Voice of America contacted me and interviewed me for few minutes, asking me if I am really free, and if I feel no worry about being wanted as an escapee. I answered the journalist that I am free and that I praise God for that. I also told him that I am not worried of escaping from the prison because I was held in jail over the crimes I did not commit. I recalled that I am not even afraid of going before the real justice to prove my innocence.
This is a summary of what I went through. May God Bless you and please pray for me and support me in any way you can!
Cassien Ntamuhanga. You may email me via God’s Voice for Rwanda or via the Contact Link