Paul Rusesabagina, who rose to fame after the hit Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda told his story as the hotel manager who saved 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide — was found guilty of supporting a terrorist group by a Rwandan court.
The high profile case in which the 67-year-old Rusesabagina was arrested in August 2020 after what he described as a kidnapping from Dubai by Rwandan authorities has been summarised on Monday and the former hotelier, credited with saving over 1,200 lives, has been given 25 years sentence.
The genocide hero was accused of supporting an armed wing, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change who had claimed responsibility for the 2018 and 2019 attacks in the south of the country in which nine Rwandans died.
Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said, “He founded a terrorist organization that attacked Rwanda, he financially contributed to terrorist activities,”
Rwandan prosecutors had sought a life sentence for the former hotelier, credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide. But Mukamurenzi said the term “should be reduced to 25 years” as it was his first conviction.
Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame.
Rusesabagina and his supporters have boycotted the verdict. The accused had said before the trial that he had no expectations of justice from a trial that is actually a “sham”.
Rusesabagina also said that he was gagged and tortured before he was jailed, but Rwandan authorities denied it.
In an interview, Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba said that her father should be released and allowed to come home.
Kanimba said, “This verdict means nothing for us. Our father was kidnapped,”. She added, “He was dragged across international borders in violation of international law.”
Kanimba remarked, “My father knows that his rights were violated … that’s why he decided to step out of the trial, and this is all political”, adding that the charges were completely fabricated aimed at silencing criticism and dissent.
Author Michela Wrong who recently published a book on Rwanda said that the verdict was clearly a message to the opposition and to silence dissent.
Quite rightly Wrong claimed that the trial was an announcement to the diaspora and the critics of Kagame’s regime that they could get them no matter where they are, adding that Rusesabagina was targeted for challenging Kagame’s government for years.
“This was a show trial, rather than a fair judicial inquiry,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch expert on the case.
“The prosecution evidence against him was unveiled but not challenged. Given Mr. Rusesabagina’s age and poor health, this severe sentence is likely to be a death sentence.”
Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai.
Human Rights Watch said at the time his arrest amounted to an “enforced disappearance”, it would be a violation of International law.