The community court classified Guy Theunis as a category one genocide suspect, reserved for alleged leaders of the 100-day slaughter.

The case was automatically transferred for trial to a conventional court, where the missionary will face a possible death penalty.

Father Theunis, of the Missionaries of Africa, insisted that information that was supplied to back the charges was false.

He was brought in front of one of the community courts, known as Gacaca, for questioning Sunday before a panel of nine judges decided to file the formal charges against him.

Father Theunis, who worked as the editor of Rwanda’s periodical Le
Dialogue, denied allegations that he incited the genocide by reproducing articles from the Kangura, a newspaper that promoted the killing of members of the Tutsi ethnic minority.

A UN tribunal has convicted the editor of that newspaper, Hassan
Ngeze, and sentenced him to life in prison.

“I am astonished to hear all these allegations levelled against me. I sometimes wrote articles to press for human rights. I never republished articles from Kangura, but just translated as part of a press review,” Father Theunis told the court in Rwanda’s national language, Kinyarwanda.

Father Theunis, 60, worked in Rwanda from 1970 until 1994, when Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were slaughtered in a 100-day genocide orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government then in power.

Father Theunis, who has been living in South Africa since 1994, was arrested on September 6 while travelling through Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, from neighbouring Congo.

An international human rights activist was the only person to defend the missionary during Sunday’s proceedings.

Alison de Forges of the US-based Human Rights Watch said she knows Father Theunis as a human rights advocate, adding that some accusations levelled by witnesses went beyond the legal period covered by Gacaca courts.

Some genocide survivors were harsh in their accusations against
Father Theunis, who was clad in the pink shirt and shorts worn by prisoners in Rwanda.

“Instead of preaching the Gospel, the missionary was preaching divisions” between Tutsis and Hutus, Jean Damascene Bizimana told the court.

The missionary is the first foreigner to appear before the community courts that were set up to investigate and try more than 760,000 people suspected of playing a role in the 1994 genocide.

People accused of leading the genocide are all tried in the conventional justice system where they face stiffer penalties.

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