Kigali, March 16, 2010 (FH) - A defence witness in the rehearing trial of Jean Rwabahizi, a former driver of the French ambassador in Rwanda, was sentenced on March 13 to six months in jail for attempting to bribe the presiding judge.

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According to several human rights activists who attended the trial, the Gacaca court of Nyarugenge district (Kigali) ruled that witness Abdou Maniraguha had been suborned by the defendant's family.

He went to the presiding judge's home two days before the opening of the trial and tried to bribe him.

Gacaca courts are mandated to take disciplinary action against witnesses who lie or otherwise interfere with the due course of justice.

Jean Rwabahizi  was arrested by the Rwandan police in Kigali on January 11 upon his return from France, where he had followed his employer after Kigali severed diplomatic ties with Paris in 2006.

Relations between the two countries were restored in November 2009.

After his departure to France, Jean Rwabahizi had been convicted in absentia, in 2007, to 30 years in prison by a Gacaca court in Kigali. He was found guilty of complicity in the massacre of Tutsis who had sought refuge in a Kigali church during the 1994 genocide and of the murder of another driver at the French Embassy, his colleague Déo Twagirayezu.

When arrested, Rwabahizi immediately requested a rehearing trial.

On Saturday, he claimed again his innocence: "I did not kill anybody, neither Déo nor anyone at the Sainte-Famille Church or elsewhere; I wouldn't be capable to kill fowl ", he stated.

Proceedings were closed after his testimony. The verdict is expected to be delivered on Saturday.

The Gacaca courts, adapted from a form of Rwandan traditional justice, are tasked with trying suspected perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which left some 800,000 people dead, according to the UN.   These village courts, whose judges are elected from the community, can hand down sentences up to life imprisonment, which is now the maximum penalty in Rwanda. They have so far tried more than a million people.


© Hirondelle News Agency