The High Court in Rwanda will on April 13 decide whether the trial of 44 Muslims accused of maintaining links with the terror group Al Shabaab and the Islamic State will be held in camera or an open court.
The special chamber of the High Court that tries international crimes arrived at the decision Tuesday after listening to objections over its competence to try the case and a request by the prosecution that the trial be held in camera.
“The verdict on the objection relating to the jurisdiction of this court raised by some defence lawyers and on the request of the prosecution that the case be heard in camera will be rendered on April 13, 2017,” presiding judge Antoine Muhima said.
Advocates for the minors in this case had questioned the jurisdiction of the High Court to hear the trial. They maintained that only the special chamber for minors in the Intermediate court could try persons under the age of 18.
“If this dossier cannot be disjoined for the minors to be heard by the appropriate chamber, the law is clear that all the accused then would be tried by the special chamber for minors,” one lawyer argued.
Ten of the accused had claimed that they were minors but the prosecution said that it had examined their certificates and found that only four were under 18.
The Rwandan criminal procedure law provides that minors accused of crimes shall be tried in camera. Lawyers representing the minors had invoked the provision.
The prosecution also argued that a “public hearing would compromise state security.”
This was, however, contested by most of the accused and their advocates, maintaining that only a public hearing can serve the interests of justice.
The five women and 39 men are charged with complicity in a terrorist act, membership to a terrorist organisation, formation of a criminal gang, formation of an irregular armed group and conspiracy and incitement to commit terrorism among others.
They were arrested in security operations conducted in different months of last year. Those arraigned before the court are from all the four provinces and the city of Kigali.
The prosecution said that the first group was arrested and detained in March 2016, though some of the accused told the court that they were arrested months before the date indicated.
Rwanda has never been the target of a jihadist terrorist attack, but security organs say they have detected the formation of “terrorist networks.”
©Alleastafrica and The East African