He was giving testimonies yesterday as Rusesabagina and co-accused suspects facing terrorism charges appeared in the High Court Special Chamber for International and Cross-border crimes at the ongoing trial.
Born on 17th June 1976, Niyomwungere is a son of Nzubugize François and Iyamuremye Beathe. He lives in Commune Forest, Brussels city in Belgium but travels to Rwanda often for work purposes.
Rusesabagina faces nine counts linked to terrorism, and he is co-accused with other 20 individuals who were allegedly involved in terror attacks that took place between 2018 and 2019 and claimed nine lives.
Rusesabagina claimed he was kidnapped that he should only face charges of arriving in Rwanda illegally.
This prompted the prosecution to request the court to allow Niyomwungere to provide testimonies showing how Rusesabagina was not abducted but tricked by his trusted friend until he arrived in Rwanda.
Bishop Niyomwungere started explaining how he met with Rusesabagina and the reason that pushed to bring him to Rwanda.
He said that they knew each other in 2017 connected by a friend when he was in Belgium.
“I was linked by a friend to Paul Rusesabagina for the first time. I met with him [Rusesabagina], and told me the reason why he wanted us to interact. Paul talked to me about his personal issues, took me through his project, told me that he is the President of MRCD political party against the Government of Rwanda with an affiliated militia group called FLN,” he said.
“After discussing, he said, I have been told that you are a Bishop operating in Great Lakes Region. You can help me to liaise with Burundi leaders. I want their support,” added Niyomwungere.
As he narrated, Niyomwungere told Rusesabagina that he was not able do it but promised to link him to another person. He later linked him with a person from the embassy.
“Few days later, I continued to chat with Rusesabagina on WatsApp or interacted via phone calls. I also visited him two times,” he said.
In 2018, Niyomwungere got information from newspapers and BBC that FLN was behind some people’s deaths.
“I texted Paul asking him if those who killed people belong to his group. He accepted. I felt shocked as a Bishop for having interacted with such a person. I didn’t immediately accept what he said and called him again. Did you tell me that your people are the ones behind the killings?”
“Bishop,that is not the major concern. I am only worried to see Sankara claiming the group’s responsibility for the killings. He told me that they should keep quiet after these killings and announce on social media, if necessary, that Rwandas’ leaders are behind it,” said Niyomwungere.
The Bishop went to explain that he started distancing himself away from Rusesabagina after learning about his acts.
“The word that shocked until today is that it was the first time to ask a person if he killed people and reply yes. That got me nervous as a pitiful Bishop with a mission to spread the Gospel not to support such intentions,” he said.
Niyomwungere said he was extremely moved on and wondered why God allow him to meet with such a person who is not worried of having killed people.
Cooperating with RIB
Towards the end of 2019, Niyomwungere came to Rwanda during festive seasons and was called by unknown person as he planned to return in February 2020.
“I received a telephone call as I prepared to return. The person introduced himself to me with his names but didn’t tell me that he works with Rwanda Investigation Bureau [RIB]. He said that he wanted me to carry his message in Belgium. I have a friend there and I have learnt that you are about to return. Would you please delivery what I want to send him?”
“He begged me to come and pick what he wanted to send promising me it won’t take long. I told the driver to go there to pick an item someone wants to send to Bruxelles. Arriving there, the person showed me his service card and asked me to go with him. I found myself at RIB,” said Niyomwungere.
The Bishop said he was interrogated and shown evidences that he interacts with Rusesabagina, told that he is suspected of working with terror groups, asked him how he met with Rusesabagina and signed a statement.
Five days later, RIB staff called Michel asked Niyomwungere what he plans to do if released, and promised not to speak to Rusesabagina.
“Going back a little bit, RIB had shown me orphaned children and saw burnt cars due to Rusesabagina’s acts and felt unhappy extremely for having met such a person. Few days later, Rusesabagina told me that he wanted to travel to Burundi,” he said.
Bringing Rusesabagina to Kigali
Niyomwungere told the court that RIB never asked him to bring Rusesabagina to Rwanda but was arrested to explain his connections with terror groups.
When RIB asked Niyomwugere what he could do when released, he said: “If you set me free, I will immediately stop interacting with Rusesabagina. He told me that I should not do so and advised me to follow up him so that you can alert us if something unusual happens again. I accepted but told them that it is not easy. Since then, I started following him up day and night but my heart was chagrined.”
When Michel allowed Niyomwungere to escort Rusesabagina to Burundi, the Bishop asked how he could help RIB to bring Rusesabagina to Kigali.
“I texted him that it is difficult to do so. That’s when I told him a word that I cannot deny: ‘Michel, why can’t I make possible efforts, please accept that and help me […] Isn’t there something I can do leading to his arrest to face justice’.”
“ I am the one who introduced the idea concerning how Rusesabagina can be brought. He told me ‘why Bishop?’ I told him that my heart shocked, that I never sleep nor eat since I learnt about his acts. I always see images of crying orphaned children,” said Niyomwungere.
“Michel asked me what I think should be done. I told him that I want to do the right thing because a man would rather be a tomb than being a dog. He asked me ‘will you manage to do it alone?’”
At the time, Niyomwungere accepted that he will be able to do it but asked Michel to provide possible support.
Since then, Niyomwungere asked Rusesabagina when he plans to go to Burundi but the latter said he has difficulties of how he will arrive in the country because he would be arrested by using ordinary planes.
Niyomwungere talked to Michel again giving updates of Rusesabagina’s challenges. Michel pledged to cater for private jet ticket.
Niyomwungere later tricked Rusesabagina that Burundi leaders accepted to facilitate the aircraft that will take him to Burundi.
Since then, he started planning how to bring Rusesabagina to Kigali given that the jet was available. The latter denied passage through Europe fearing his arrest and requested his advisor to take off from Dubai where he had traveled for several times previously.
Niyomwungere who was in Kenya immediately went to Dubai to wait for Rusesabagina. He explained that they took off the same day Rusesabagina arrived in Dubai where they flew with the booked private jet to Rwanda instead of Burundi as Rusesabagina expected.
Rusesabagina was not aware but had trusted his friends that he didn’t follow up all details believing the jet cost was catered for by Burundi.
After boarding the jet, Niyomwungere tricked Rusesabagina to sit in a place where he could not see the destination on screen.
Realizing that the flight crew was about informing passengers on the flight route and destination, Niyomwungere said that he immediately started interactions with Rusesabagina and distracted him lest he hears the destination.
As he explained, Niyomwungere again was worried when Rusesabagina asked a flight attendant how many hours it takes to reach Bujumbura.
Fortunately, Niyomwungere said, the lady was not straight to the point and explained hours of flight to different cities in East Africa.
Niyomwungere said that Rusesabagina was tired that time and fell asleep immediately.
“I told him aren’t you tired? I advised him that we should sleep and asked the lady to switch off lights but I was not stupid to sleep. I kept my eyes open. Shortly before landing, they told us that we are about reaching Kigali. I looked at Rusesabagina and found he was still asleep,” he narrated.
Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, Rusesabagina found himself with RIB staff including Michel waiting for him and took him in a different car with Niyomwungere’s.
“That is when I last saw Rusesabagina after arriving in Rwanda,” said Niyomwungere.