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Rwanda court finds 'Hotel Rwanda' hero guilty of terrorism

September 20, 2021

Paul Rusesabagina, a critic of President Paul Kagame and one-time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Paul Rusesabagina is pictured in handcuffs accompanied by the police
Rusesabagina was put on trial after his Burundi-bound plane landed in Rwanda insteadImage: Clement Uwiringiyimana/REUTERS

A Rwandan court on Monday said Paul Rusesabagina was guilty of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Rusesabagina, a prominent opponent of the Rwandan government, was accused by authorities of lending his support from abroad to a rebel group in the African country.

The 67-year-old, who is now a Belgian citizen, was credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide. His actions inspired Hollywood's "Hotel Rwanda" in 2004.

Belgium criticized the legal process and Rusesabagina's sentence.

"At the end of these legal proceedings and despite repeated appeals from Belgium on this matter, it must be noted that Mr. Rusesabagina did not benefit from a fair and equitable trial," Belgium's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

The sentiment was echoed by US State Department spokesman Ned Price , who said in a statement that Washington was "concerned" by his conviction.

"The reported lack of fair trial guarantees calls into question the fairness of the verdict," Price added.

What were the charges?

Rusesabagina was arrested in August 2020 under mysterious circumstances, after a Burundi-bound plane he boarded from the UAE instead landed in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

The former hotelier was charged with nine offenses, including being a member of a terrorist organization, financing terrorism, murder and armed robbery.

The attacks in question, which were carried out by the local National Liberation Front (FLN)  killed at least nine civilians throughout 2018.

Rusesabagina was accused of using WhatsApp from abroad to coordinate arms deals to facilitate the attacks.

Who is Paul Rusesabagina?

Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the 2004 film.

The Hollywood movie was inspired by Rusesabagina's role as the former manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he sheltered hundreds of guests from ethnic persecution during the genocide.

After growing critical of Kagame's rule in Rwanda, he left the country in 1996, residing first in Belgium and then the US.

While abroad, he used his global platform to advocate for political change in Kigali.

Rusesabagina founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.


Rwanda: Children of genocide grapple with horrors of past

Rusesabagina and his family members have repeatedly denied any involvement in the attacks.

The trial of Rusesabagina, along with 20 others, began in February, six months after his arrest. 

What did his daughter and lawyer say?

His daughter, Carine Kanimba, promised to continue fighting for her father's release: "This verdict means nothing, the feelings for us remain the same", she told DW.

"My father was illegally detained before this verdict, he is still illegally detained." 

She added that her father was kidnapped and still has no access to his international legal team. "We will continue the campaign, we hope that other political measures will be taken, my father is a political prisoner, we need a solution to his problem."

Vincent Lurquin, his attorney in Brussels, was denied a permit to defend him in Rwanda.

"It is a trial that was written in advance," he told DW. "So we are dealing with a process that seems more formal, more political than legal," Lurquin added. 

"We are not saying that there is nothing in the record, we are not asking that he be acquitted. We are just asking that he be sentenced according to the normal rules of judicial law, which was not the case."

go/rt (Reuters, AFP)