Rwandan President Paul Kagame File picture: Andrew Gombert

Kigali - One of a group of people accused in Rwanda of plotting attacks on the country's leaders on Friday claimed in court that he had been tortured.

Former soldier Jean-Paul Dukuzumuremyi is standing trial along with famous musician Kizito Mihigo and two others on charges including conspiracy to murder, complicity in a terrorist act and conspiring against the government of Rwandan strongman and President Paul Kagame.

Mihigo has already pleaded guilty, while the three others deny the charges.

“I was picked up by men at gunpoint. They blindfolded me, beat me up and took me to place I couldn't recognise. For days I was tortured and I could eat like once a week. I lost track of the days and got to know that I spent a month held when the police paraded me,” Dukuzumuremyi told a trial hearing on Friday.

“I was forced to plead guilty to crimes that I did not commit because I was tortured. Even the time we first appeared in court for the pre-trial, we were under heavy guard and some of the men that tortured me were there so I had to plead guilty so that the torturing could come to an end,” he said.

During the hearing, Mihigo maintained his guilty plea and dismissed his defence lawyers Ä who have argued that there is no evidence against him.

“I ask for forgiveness, and to underscore that I wish to defend myself,” he told the court.

Police, who arrested the four in April, said they planned attacks in revenge for the assassination of a former spy chief and fierce Kagame critic Patrick Karegeya, who lived in exile in South Africa and who was found strangled to death in a Johannesburg luxury hotel on New Year's Day.

Mihigo is accused of being “in charge of mobilising youth” to support Karegeya's Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition party in exile, as well as the FDLR, Rwandan Hutu rebels who include the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in their ranks and who are based in the forests of neighbouring DR Congo.

The arrests comes amid ongoing commemorations in Rwanda to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide, but also amid mounting criticism of the alleged suppression of political dissent by Kagame.

Sapa-AFP