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Popular Genocide musician jailed, family protests

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ImageArusha: From a defense witness, one of Rwanda's most famous singers, Simon Bikindi, 56, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for inciting hate during the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. His family said the verdict was questionable.

Prosecutors at the UN-backed tribunal based in Tanzania had called for the singer to be given a life sentence. During the two-year trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Bikindi denied using his music to provoke such killings.

Between 1990 and 1994, Mr. Simon Bikindi composed, performed, recorded or aired tracks lauding solidarity among Hutus and accusing Tutsis of enslaving Hutus, according to his indictment.

“These songs have thereafter been used in a campaign of propaganda conducted to portray the Tutsis as the enemy and to push the Hutu community to put their Hutu identity to the fore and kill Tutsis”, the prosecutor states.

Bikindi’s band, the Irindiro Ballet, founded in the 1980s, used to sing and dance all traditional Rwandan rhythms. Bikindi, who also worked as an official at the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, was a dancer himself.

By the start of the war in October 1990, Mr. Bikindi was already a celebrity in Rwanda. His songs were aired in bars, buses, salons and even offices. Wealthy families would hire his band for their children’s weddings ceremonies.

“I hate those Hutus, those de-hutuized Hutus, who have given up their identity, dear comrades. I hate those Hutus, those Hutus who walk blindly. Fools, naive Hutus committed in a war of which they do not know the cause”, he sung.

“I hate those Hutus who can be brought to kill and who, I swear, kill Hutus, dear comrades. And if I hate them, it’s all for the better”, Mr. Bikindi would sing.

For Prosecutor Stephen Rapp (USA), the message of this song was “straightforward for Rwandans; it’s a call to Hutus to rally against Tutsis”.

At the height of the armed conflict and the political mayhem, Mr. Bikindi notably composed Njyewe nanga Abahutu... (I hate those Hutus...), one of the songs the ICTR prosecutor now used as evidence.

Even though his songs were not war anthems per se, prosecutors believed the accompanying melodies were harmonious, which explains in part why they were so successful.

Mr. Bikindi was away from Rwanda during the Genocide, but still many militiamen would sing his songs at road-blocks or while searching for victims.

According to Bikindi’s lawyer Wilfred Nderitu (Kenya), “Bikindi’s songs are harmless. To accuse him is to deny him the right to freedom of _expression”.

Nderitu was assisted by Jean de Dieu Momo from Cameroon.

A native of Gisenyi (Northern Province) as President Juvénal Habyarimana, Mr. Bikindi was member of the presidential party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND).

Mr. Bikindi was arrested in Netherlands in July 2001 and transferred at the ICTR in March 2002.

He was also a shareholder in the notorious hate radio station, radio television libre des milles collines (RTLM).

According to Prosecution, Mr. Bikindi also separated women from men at “checkpoints”, killed them and reappeared shortly afterwards with their personal effects, saying: “see how it is now with the Tutsis”.

Back in June 2006, Lieutenant-colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva asked Simon Bikindi, then a defendant as well at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to testify in his defence in the Military I trial.

Mr. Bikindi himself would end up the Dock months later on charges ranging from incitement and actual execution of Genocide.

The verdict did not come well for Mr. Bikindi’s two wives and children that were in the courtroom. One of the Wives Paulina told the BBC greatlakes service that the verdict was based on “lies and concoctions” because there were no dates given for some incidents he is alleged to have taken part.   

According to her, Mr. Bikindi was not in Rwanda when the massacres were going on.

His lawyer said they will take time to read the entire verdict before drawing out the next course of action, but hinted at a possible appeal. 


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