Offensive to neutralise Belgian critics of Rwandan origin: the case of Mr Marcel Sebatware.

Marcel Sebatware

Pushed on the back foot by the Rusesabagina case, the Rwandan regime has responded by mounting a robust offensive to neutralise other Belgian critics of Rwandan origin: the case of Mr Marcel Sebatware.

By Ben Barugahare

People have been wondering how Rwanda will get out of the diplomatic row with Belgium after it has abducted, tried, and sentenced its citizen Paul Rusesabagina to 25 years in prison, in clear violation of international law. While Belgium has an obligation to protect its citizen, the Rwandan regime, used to enjoying impunity, is worried about seeing its true colours revealed to the public. 

Even if Belgium also has concerns to keep its good relations with Rwanda for geopolitical reasons which, for example forced France to comply with the wishes of President Kagame, this is an issue that raises many questions and forces people to scrutinise every gesture, action, or omission on the Rwandan and Belgian sides. 

Usually, one would have expected the Rwandan regime to learn from its mistakes in the Rusesabagina case and to abandon its outdated methods of using justice as a political tool to crush its critics.

Now we learn from sources close to the circles of the totalitarian RPF regime that it intends to continue this tactic and even intensify it.

In this context, the Rwandan totalitarian regime intends to divert the attention of the Belgian authorities from Rusesabagina case by mounting a new campaign of accusations against Belgian citizens of Rwandan origin, as a way of countering the pressure from Belgium. 

According to the same sources, the Rwandan regime intends to pressure the Belgian government to help destabilise Rwandan opponents it believes to be leaders in the Rwandan community as a quid pro quo for the transfer of Paul Rusesabagina to Belgium.

Early signs of these malicious tactics are beginning to show up with the recently observed presence of some people (suspected of belonging to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office), alongside Rwandan investigators, in the Bugarama (Rusizi) region. This team is said to have questioned prosecution witnesses against Mr Marcel Sebatware, former Deputy Director General of Cimerwa, leading people to believe that there could be plans to relaunch the investigations. The witnesses are selected by the Rwandan services in charge of operations to destroy alleged “enemies” of the regime. 

Sources on the ground have indeed revealed that this team chose to meet only people who were handpicked and presented by the RPF team to the foreign investigator. Some of them are the same people who already appear in a document of investigation of the CNLG (Commission Nationale de Lutte contre le genocide) of 2019, an arm of the RPF regime, which confirmed that Sebatware Marcel has not been convicted by the Gacaca. Other prosecution witnesses include former convicts of genocide crimes, such as the former Muganza sector councillor Mr Jean Bigirumwami. 

However, our investigations have revealed that there are many other people of good faith who are prepared to testify to the integrity of Mr Marcel Sebatware and his family during the tragic events of 1994. The team of investigators, who have been provided with a government security escort, did not seem to be interested in listening to defence witnesses. 

In the 2000s, the RPF regime, in its strategy to neutralise as many former Hutu cadres as possible who refused to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime, it managed to get Mr Marcel Sebatware put on Interpol’s red lists. With the help of his lawyers and with the assistance of the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, he managed to demonstrate that the reasons put forward by Kigali were unfounded and he was removed from these lists in 2011. The Rwandan authorities were informed accordingly.

Strangely enough, we have noticed that for a few months now, the RPF dictatorial regime has relaunched its propaganda machinery via, among others, the pro-regime Youtube channel, Urugano TV, which has just released two video interviews accusing Sebatware of having committed genocide. This channel had already revealed its political leaning in a posting on Twitter on 15/11/2021 in which Mr Kayitare Jean Paul, well known in the circles of RPF zealots in charge of hunting down critics of the Rwandan regime, invited his followers to be prepared to receive valuable information on Marcel Sebatware.

We have learnt that Mr Marcel Sebatware has already lodged a complaint of slander and defamation against X with the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office. It would be interesting to know how the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office will deal with these two cases (complaint by Mr Marcel Sebatware and investigation against him by Kigali (with possible collaboration from the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office)!).

The bigger question is how it is possible that 10 years after the removal of Marcel Sebatware’s name from the Interpol red lists and more than 12 years after the Gacaca trials that exonerated him have closed, the regime in Kigali jumps up as, if from a comma, to repeat the same accusations against him.

It is most likely that the real reasons for these attacks against Sebatware are to be found elsewhere than in pure justice. We believe that there are many reasons for this, including the following:

President Kagame himself once stated that “Those who betray the country will suffer the consequences and it is only a matter of time and how“.  Given Marcel Sebatware’s status as a senior figure  in the FDU-Inkingi Party and former commissioner for external relations it seems normal that he has become one of the key targets of the Kigali regime and that he is quickly labelled as a criminal. We may recall that the Rwandan totalitarian regime has developed legal tools to enable it to crack down effectively on its critics. Article 194 of the Rwandan penal code defines as an offence: “Spreading false information or harmful propaganda with the intention of provoking an international opinion hostile to the Rwandan state”. Thus, for Kigali, any information that contradicts the official version of certain facts or criticises government policies is considered a criminal offence.

Similarly, Article 204 provides for the offence of “Inciting an uprising or disturbance of the population…. Any person who, in public, either by speeches or by writings of any kind, images or emblems of any kind, posted, distributed, bought, or put on sale or published by any means whatsoever, raises the population against the established power….,”.

It is therefore clear that having a position like that of Marcel Sebatware who is among those who regularly denounce the misdeeds of the Kigali regime, he has become a target to be “neutralized.”

In our view Marcel Sebatware is being attacked by the regime in Kigali as part of the transnational repression against dissenting voices as documented by independent organisations.

We believe that the attacks against Marcel Sebatware are just a tip of the iceberg and that the Rwandan dictatorial regime is testing the Belgian government if it can give in to help neutralise the people that the regime considers political enemies. It is likely to continue pushing on this strategy.

It is high time for the authorities of democratic countries, including Belgium, to take a clear position that encourages Rwandans, from all social groups, to commit to true reconciliation and to avoid attitudes that reinforce polarisation through favouring one group against another. This true reconciliation is only possible if the historical truth is said and justice for all is done.

Belgium must stop appearing to support a retrograde, crumbling dictatorship. In this respect, the stand of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Wilmès, in the case of Paul Rusesabagina is to be commended. This is the best and concrete way to deal with a dictatorial regime and needs to be strengthened. In the face of such a harsh and ruthless dictatorship, only firmness pays off. Appeasement encourages a dictator and only leads to more misery for the oppressed people.

The Belgian government would gain credibility by encouraging the Kigali regime to abandon the logic of violence, lies and hunting down its critics and instead embrace open and sincere dialogue with all Rwandan stakeholders, to stop its delaying tactics and assume its historical responsibility in the Rwandan tragedy.

We still hope that the abduction of the Belgian citizen Rusesabagina, after the Belgian government refused to bend to Kigali’s wishes, and its stubbornness in error during the trial, will have served to demonstrate the true nature of the RPF regime, which spares no human and financial effort when it comes to getting rid of an opponent it considers too troublesome. Usually, it prepares its move by a campaign of demonisation to remove empathy towards its victim. The intensification of the campaign to demonise Sebatware, and others very soon, should alert the Belgian authorities to the danger that hangs over Belgian citizens of Rwandan origin critical of the Rwandan regime and especially those it has identified publicly.