Our judicial system; a sledge hammer used to kill a fly

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail to you’
well that is too bad for all the eccentrics in this country:

One of them groups is the Barokore (Born again christians as they call themselves): Now if you are not into their thing too much, you might see some  inconsistencies in their story; I suppose that is what faith is: easily identifying oneself with Jewish characters in a 2000 year old book of scary and confusing essays, told by a loud individual in a white robe. One character in particular seems to attract most of their passions: the messiah.

Now the book I am referring to is the bible, not the law. The law is a relatively recent, and regularly updated book of commands, supposedly based on common sense, also told by individuals in robes – dark in this case; who, unlike their Christian counterparts, are expected to be consistent, full of common sense, and with passion for no character in particular.

What happens when the two clash? Well, one day, the first group took it upon themselves to prophecy doom upon our country in a letter addressed to the president. The group had decided to identify themselves as ‘INTWARANE ZA YEZU NA MALIYA’ followers of Jesus and Mary; respectively the special character described above, and his mother, both major features of the 2000-year old book.

Now, we all know that the president is on twitter and facebook, and it feels good to ‘tweet’ him messages and sometimes get replies.

This group didn’t want to hear it; they wanted to use the old classical way of hand delivery and so they took to the Kiyovu streets, direction presidential residence, chanting apocalyptic songs. Predictably both the songs and the pilgrimage were interrupted by the police, who booked them a room at the nearest station.

When I heard of the story, I found it entertaining and bizarre, but not unusual. Knowing the ‘barokore’ of this town, it is uncanny how deprived of common sense they can be. The president even jokingly commented on it saying: ‘How can God talk to the people I lead without passing first to me?’ to the laughter of the audience.

This morning however, I wasn’t laughing when I read that the Kigali High Court had sentenced seven of them to five years in prison. In passing that harsh judgement, the court was almost apologetic for not making the sentence even harsher; the judgement read that they were sentenced to five years after finding that ‘although they participated in the demonstration, they did not have power to influence  the general public’. Five years? To most deranged and confused of characters, who are crazy enough to mess with presidential guards? I mean who does that?

These people deserved, at worst, to get off with twenty lashes on their buttocks and a signed pledge to diversify their reading. Instead they will be locked away for five years – if their sentence is maintained in appeal.

I imagine that, due to our sensitive history, Rwandan Judges tend to over-think these behaviours to find alter motives. But remember, the same history makes people victims of all sorts of dogmas and fantasies. We are all looking for ways to deal with our past and find some solace. If some of us go lunatic, we should be treated with decency and humanity, especially when our actions did not cause any material damage.

These people are being victimised twice; first, they were under the spell of white-robed charlatans whose business is to exploit people in weak states of mind, easily found in Rwanda. Now they are being victimised again by black-robed gurus, eager to please their own messiah…

Lets not forget, these people only sinned by not asking for a permission to demonstrate – big deal… On the other hand, they were merely exercising their right to (1) Freedom of Assembly; (2) Freedom of Movement; (3) Freedom of Expression; (4) Freedom of Religion. FOUR (4) Freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda. My head is still spinning on the thought that in my country: FOUR constitutional freedoms can be ignored, if you forget to respect ONE police directive. We are all lawyers, but that particular reading of the law is worrisome; to say the least…

This is a dangerous pattern; on 4th February 2011, another court sentenced journalists of Umurabyo newspaper to respectively 7 and 17 years for ‘inciting unrest and civil disobedience’, and essentially for slandering the president. I can’t say that the journalists were innocent; it is noteworthy though, that even the president said in a press conference that ‘the sentences were very heavy’ compared to the actual damage, if any, caused by the articles.

Either appropriate or not, heavy sentences such as these, for such immaterial actions,  send a chilling message to the Rwandan society: If need be, Judge smash will use a sledge hammer to kill a fly – whatever that mean…

Posted 11th November 2014