Appeal trial of former Rwandan leader begins

Kigali - Rwanda's Supreme Court began hearing appeals arguments on Monday in the case of former president Pasteur Bizimungu who was convicted on incitement and corruption charges in the genocide-scarred nation.

Both Bizimungu and the prosecution have appealed the 15-year jail term handed down in June, with the defendant arguing the sentence was too harsh and prosecutors, who had sought life imprisonment, complaining it was too lenient.

"The term can either be increased or reduced," Bizimungu's lawyer, Jean-Bosco Kazungu, said.

Bizimungu was found guilty by a lower court of misappropriating public funds, inciting civil disobedience and criminal association, mainly for having formed a political party that authorities accuse of promoting ethnic divisions.

Bizimungu, a Hutu, ruled Rwanda from 1994 to 2000 when he was forced out of office but is still considered an icon of peace in the country that is still recovering from the 100 days of killing between April and July 1994 when about 800 000 people, most of them minority Tutsis, were slaughtered.

He was thrown into prison in April 2002 after founding the PDR-Ubuyanja political party that was immediately declared illegal and accused of stirring up ethnic divisions in Rwanda where any overt references to ethnicity have been strongly discouraged since the genocide.

Government critics, however, have claimed that Kigali has used the policy to stifle legitimate public debate and at the time of Bizimungu's trial and conviction some human rights groups and diplomats said they believed the case against the ex-president was politically motivated.

Bizimungu was tried with seven other people, including his former transport minister Charles Ntakirutinka, who was jailed for 10 years.

The six remaining co-accused were all jailed for five years for criminal association.

The appellate judges have up to 30 days to deliberate after hearing witness testimony.

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