Rwanda’s high court convicted eight people on Monday of inciting rebellion for processing to President Paul Kagame’s residence to deliver what they said was a message from God, and sentenced them to five years in prison.
The seven women and one man, arrested in July 2013 outside Kagame’s home, belonged to a sect called The Inseparable Heroes of Jesus and Mary, and hoped to pass on a message that criticised his leadership, the prosecution told the court.
Kagame, who won re-election by an overwhelming margin in 2010, has secured international praise for rebuilding Rwanda after ethnic genocide in 1994. But critics accuse him of being authoritarian and trampling on civil rights, charges he rejects.
The prosecutor told the court that, during the procession, one of the group had been heard to say: “The president and his government are dictatorial and, if they don’t stop, there will be more bloodshed than in the genocide.”
More than 800,000 people were killed when an ethnic Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day massacre in April 1994, murdering Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Chantal Matumba, the leader of the group, was also arrested but was later found to be mentally ill and released. However, the judge said the eight defendants “followed and supported the words that were being made by Mutamba, and did it consciously”.
The defendants’ lawyer said they would appeal.
“How can God talk to the people I lead without passing first to me?” Kagame asked in a speech last July. “I have told them (religious groups) that I am also a man of God, and I need to talk to him.”