Arusha, November 21, 2001 (FH) - A defence lawyer on Wednesday suggested that a convict testifying before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had given false testimony. Lawyer Alfred Pognon of Benin sought to show that Omar Serushago, who is testifying in the so-called "Media trial", was not telling the truth.

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Serushago was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1999, after pleading guilty to genocide before the ICTR. Pognon is representing the accused Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, a former Rwandan politician and board member of "hate radio" RTLM. Barayagwiza is on trial with two other people linked to media which incited Hutus to kill Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. They are Ferdinand Nahimana, a founder and alleged former director of RTLM; and Hassan Ngeze, former editor of newspaper Kangura. In his testimony, Serushago accused Barayagwiza and Ngeze of having conspired to plan the genocide, which left some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead. "Not much to lose""It's very easy for you," Pognon told the witness Serushago. "Seeing as you have been given a relatively long sentence, you would not have much to lose by bearing false testimony. "Serushago retorted that "testifying demands courage", and that he was not the only ICTR convict who had decided to testify in this trial. Italo-Belgian former RTLM presenter Georges Ruggiu, sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty, is also on the prosecution witness list. Pognon sought to show that Serushago only had a vague knowledge of Barayagwiza and his activities in Rwanda during the 1990s. During cross-examination, Serushago conceded that a military officer he had mentioned as being a death squad ("escadron de la mort") member had in fact died three years before the period in question. "I admit that Colonel Rwendeye had died three years before the meetings that I said he attended," Serushago admitted. "I request the court to forgive me for this oversight". Pognon suggested to Serushago that all his testimony on the death squad had simply been made up. The witness testified that there had been a clandestine organisation in Rwanda set up around 1990 to assassinate senior Tutsi personalities, and that Barayagwiza had been a member. ICTR Rules provide that a court can, on its own initiative or at the request of one of the parties, order the Prosecutor to investigate suspected false testimony with a view to bringing charges. False testimony under oath can be sanctioned by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to one year in prison. Pognon did not bring a formal complaint against Serushago for false testimony, despite his allegations. In the past, lawyers have brought motions for false testimony, but these have been rejected by the judges. Alleged intimidationFor his part, Serushago accused Hassan Ngeze of having sent him a letter warning him not to testify. Tribunal Rules say that any person seeking to influence or intimidate a witness can be declared in contempt of court and sentenced to a fine of $10,000 maximum, or up to six months in prison. The court has decided to hear the person who allegedly brought to Serushago the letter from Ngeze. The accused denies that he wrote such a letter. Serushago acted as informer for the ICTR Prosecutor prior to his own arrest. He contributed to the arrests of several Rwandan genocide suspects in West Africa and Kenya, including Ngeze. Ngeze claims that ICTR investigators seized $20,000 from his home at the time of his arrest, and is demanding the money back. His counsel Floyd said he would raise this matter during the planned future testimony of one of the investigators who arrested his client in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in July 1997. This case is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, composed of judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Mose of Norway and Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka. AT/JC/PHD/FH (ME1121E)