The 17th chamber of the French high court in Paris was the scene of a chain of dramatic flip-flops on 8 April as the court began to hear a case brought by the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, against the Paris-based freelance journalist and author, Charles Onana.
The journalist is charged with defamation for publishing a book titled: "Les Secrets du Ginocide Rwandais -- Enqete sur les Mysteres d'un President'" (The secrets of the Rwanda genocide-investigation into the mysteries of a president"), which alleges that Kagame was the principal suspect in the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane on 6 April 1994 which, according to him, sparked off the Rwandan genocide.
The book blames Kagame and his RPF army for shooting down the Falcon 50 plane, using two ground-to-air missiles. Also on the plane was the Burundian president, Cyprien Ntaryamira. The two presidents were returning from a peace summit in Tanzania.
Though he says he has been defamed, Kagame does not want money. He is calling on the French court to order the author to pay one symbolic euro to the Rwandan state for prejudice suffered as a result of the defamation.
He also wants the accused to publish the court's judgement in the foreign media. In addition, the court should order Onana to pay 5,000 euros for each copy of the book found in the bookstores.
Kagame's lawyer, Natasha Renaudin, charges that investigations into the shooting of the plane are underway before the French judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere, and accuses Onana of not respecting the principle of "presumption of innocence" for Kagame in the whole affair.
When the case opened on 8 April, the prosecution asked the judge to order the book withdrawn from the market. But the president of the three-man council of judges, Madame Dubreuil, refused the prosecution's request on the grounds that Kagame was not an accused person before Judge Bruguiere. The court adjourned till 29 April.
Onana has described the case as "an attempt to stifle the truth".
The worry of the prosecution is understandable when viewed against the backdrop of the overwhelming demand for the book since its publication on 10 December 2001. Interestingly, Deo Mushayidi, a Tutsi journalist and former Kagame spokesman, helped Onana to write the book.
"Over 2,000 copies have been sold since Kagame filed the suit, and the demand is increasing," Onana, born in Cameroon, told New African. "The English version of the book will soon be out to let the 'truth'...