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The 17th Chamber of the French high court in early June threw out on technical grounds the libel suit filed by Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, against the investigative Cameroonian journalist and author, Charles Onana.


The journalist was charged with defamation for publishing a book titled: "Les Secrets du Genocide Rwandais-Enqete sur les Mysteres d'un President" (The Secrets of the Rwandan Genocide - Investigations into the Mysteries of a President), which alleges that Kagame was the key instigator in the downing of President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane on 6 April 1994 which, according to him, sparked off the Rwandan genocide (see NA, June).

But when the matter came up for hearing for the third time, presiding Judge Edith Dubreuil dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiff had failed to meet the three-month deadline in filing the case as required by Article 65 of the French law of 29 July 1881 on press freedom and publications.

Kagame filed his case on 6 March, more than three months after the publication of the book in November last year.

Dubreuil, who was assisted on the case by two other judges, Sylvie Menotti and Sophie Poitou, referred to evidence provided by the defence which confirmed that the book was published in November, with 40 copies sold at the FNAC Forum in Paris between 30 November and 6 December, at least over a week before the cut-off date.

The court was told that copies of the book were sent to subscribers such as Ernest Munyankindi on 29 November, to Emmanuel Kaouhijev, Tiphaine Dickson and Seraphine Babona on 30 November, and to Francine Uwera on 3 December.

The court also heard that although the press conference announcing the publication of the book by MINSI Publications took place on 10 December, Onana had already granted an interview on the book to Radio France International (RFI) on 25 November 2001.

When the case opened on 8 April, the prosecution had claimed that investigations into the shooting of the presidential plane was underway before the French judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere, and had accused Onana of not respecting the principle of "presumption of innocence" for Kagame in the matter.

But the judge refused to grant the prosecution request to order the book withdrawn from the market on the grounds that Kagame was not an accused person before Judge Bruguiere.

"Kagame was determined to stop the book's circulation because he wanted to avoid the embarrassment of many, many people coming to know about the truth in Rwanda, but this verdict has torpedoed his dream," said Onana.