In response to the outbreak of coronavirus, the High Council of the Judiciary announced on March 16th, 2020 the suspension of court hearings, pre-trial hearings and scheduled meetings between litigants, court administration and the Department of Inspectorate of Courts for a period of two weeks.
Following the decision, suspects of petty crimes were to be released to prevent overcrowded police stations especially during the pandemic.
All released suspects had committed crimes which made them liable for not more than 6 months in jail. Others were released after posting bail. Suspects who were liable for more than 6 months in jail will report to prosecution every Monday of the week to proceed with investigation while the lockdown applies.
Litigants and the general public that might need to contact courts during this period are advised to do so with the aid of the integrated electronic management system (IECMS).
Nyandwi Bertin who was held at Ndera police station in Kimironko sector applauded the government’s decision to release petty criminals. "I am responsible for an accident which claimed a life and I will immediately post bail as I was requested to."
Umwizerwa Chantal, a resident of Nyaruguru district who is suspected of stealing a laptop was also released. "I am glad I have been released because my child who is still a toddler needs me. I will make sure I report to prosecution every Monday as I was requested to."
Prosecutor Joseph Uwakigeri stated that releasing suspects of petty crimes does not imply they have been pardoned. Investigation will proceed and suspects have been given orders to abide by.
However, petty criminals with past records will not be released during this period.
In a letter to prosecutors published on April 1st, 2020, Aimable Havugiyaremye, Prosecutor General outlined 3 categories of detainees to ease the release process.
In the first category were detainees suspected of offenses including murder, human trafficking, corruption, defilement, use and distribution of drugs and repeat offenders. They are not eligible for release during the pandemic and will be tried after the lockdown.
The second category included detainees who were required to pay fines and were to be released without being produced in court.
The third category included suspects who can be released on a conditional basis. Their cases will proceed after lockdown and suspects will be tried while not under detention.
The decision to release petty criminals takes shape as the number of coronavirus patients continues to increase. Currently, 104 people have tested positive for coronavirus while 4 of them have already recovered and discharged from hospital.
To further stem the spread of the virus, cabinet recently extended lockdown for two additional weeks until April 19th, 2020.