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Rwandan Ex-President Sentenced to 15 Years - 2004-06-07

A former president of Rwanda was sentenced Monday to 15 years in jail for several crimes committed during and after his term in office.

Former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu was convicted of embezzlement of public funds, forming an illegal organization, and inciting civil disobedience.

The court gave him three five-year terms.

He was found not guilty of a more serious charge, threatening state security.

A reporter for Rwanda Television, Martin Sambazi, attended Mr. Bizimungu's trial. Mr. Sambazi says the embezzlement charge related to money the former president diverted from a fund to help orphans and poor people while he was president.

Mr. Sambazi said the charge of inciting civil disobedience was related to Mr. Bizimungu's criticism of Rwanda's Tutsi minority. "He was holding meetings and making statements which were seen to be divisive, saying that it was only the Tutsis who control the government," he said.

Mr. Bizimungu, who is a Hutu, was president of Rwanda from 1994 to 2000. But he had a [disagreement] with his Tutsi colleague in the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Paul Kagame, who is now president.

In 2002, Mr. Bizimungu and former Minister of Public Works Charles Ntakirutinka were arrested for attempting to start a new political party.

Reporter Martin Sambazi said the court was told this was an illegal action. "It was at a time when no new political parties were allowed to be formed in the country, so that was supposed to be something illegal," he said.

The two men have been held in detention since that time.

At Monday's trial, Mr. Ntakirutinka was handed a 10-year sentence.

Mr. Bizimungu's detention and trial are considered controversial by some. In 2002, the human rights group Amnesty International issued a statement saying Mr. Bizimungu, Mr. Ntakirutinka and others held with them were prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their perceived or actual peaceful political affiliations.