Phocas Ndayizera

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Phocas Ndayizera, a freelance journalist who contributed to the BBC’s Kinyarwanda and Kirundi services, was arrested in 2018. In 2021, he was convicted of planning terror attacks, alongside seven other people. As of late 2023, he was serving a 10-year prison term.

On November 21, 2018, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), a national law enforcement agency, arrested Ndayizera in the capital, Kigali, without informing his family, leading his wife to file a missing person’s report.

On November 28, 2018, a RIB spokesperson presented Ndayizera at a press conference in Kigali and said that the journalist was arrested while receiving explosives, including dynamite, and authorities had linked him with terrorist groups, news reports said.

When Ndayizera’s trial began in November 2019, prosecutors accused him of planning terrorist attacks on water and power installations in Rwanda, the BBC reported. Media reports in 2019 said that Ndayizera was charged alongside 12 co-defendants but by the time of his conviction in 2021, media reports indicated 13 co-defendants. CPJ did not have access to court documents or a full list of co-defendants.

Prosecutors alleged that one of Ndayizera’s co-conspirators was journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga, who had escaped prison in 2017 while serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to murder and conspiracy against the president.

As evidence, prosecutors produced what they said were WhatsApp messages between Ndayizera and Ntamuhanga—who was tried in absentia—and said that Ntamuhanga had pledged to provide US$15,000 to carry out the attacks, the BBC reported.

The prosecutors also said that Ndayizera and Ntamuhanga had known each other since childhood, according to news reports.

During a bail hearing in 2018, Ndayizera pleaded guilty but the journalist and his co-accused changed their pleas to not guilty during their trial in 2020, saying they had signed earlier confessions under torture, according to news reports.

In a November 2022 statement emailed to CPJ, Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice said that Ndayizera’s “allegation of torture in the form of coerced confession” had been “dismissed by the court due to lack of evidence from the Defense.”

During the 2020 trial, Ndayizera’s attorney said that his client was initially questioned about his journalism, but that case was never presented in court, the BBC reported, without providing further details. In addition, Ndayizera denied that audio recordings presented by the prosecution were of his voice, it said.

One co-defendant, Eliaquam Karangwa, said during the trial that the RIB promised him freedom if he implicated Ndayizera, but that in reality the money they received was from a Kenyan for a farming project, the BBC reported.

On May 6, 2021, Rwanda’s High Court Chamber for International Crimes and Terrorism acquitted all co-defendants in the case of the charge of plotting to attack Rwanda’s government, according to multiple media reports. The court convicted eight of the defendants, including Ndayizera, of conspiring to carry out terror acts and illegal use of explosives, according to media reports. The other defendants in the case were acquitted and released. Ndayizera was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and Ntamuhanga—in absentia—to 25 years, those reports said.

On May 23, 2021, Ntamuhanga, who had sought asylum in Mozambique four years earlier, disappeared after being detained by men believed to be Mozambican police and a man who spoke Rwanda’s national language, according to rights groups and news reports.

In September 2022, a person familiar with the case told CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns, that an appeal had been filed but no hearing date had been set.

As of late 2023, Ndayizera remained in prison, that person said. CPJ was unable to determine if a hearing date had been set.

In 2018, Modeste Mbabazi, the RIB spokesperson at the time, and the self-regulatory Rwanda Media Commission told CPJ that the charges against Ndayizera were not linked to journalism.

In a 2022 email to CPJ, the Ministry of Justice said that the cases against Ndayizera and other detained journalists in Rwanda were “conducted in full accordance” with the law.

As of late 2023, CPJ’s emails to the Ministry of Justice and National Prosecution Authority did not receive any replies.