Court sentences Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina to 25 years in prison

The man who inspired the movie Rwanda Hotel was convicted of terrorism offenses on Monday and sentenced to 25 years in prison in a trial that human rights monitors and other critics of Rwanda’s repressive government have described as an act of retaliation.

Paul Rusesabagina, credited with saving ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, boycotted the announcement of the verdict after saying he did not expect justice is done in a trial he described as a “sham”.

Rusesabagina, a Texas resident and Belgian citizen, was convicted of nine counts, including forming an illegal armed group, membership in a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, murder and ‘removal. He was charged along with 20 other people.

The circumstances surrounding Rusesabagina’s arrest last year, his limited access to an independent legal team and his worsening health condition have sparked international concern for the 67-year-old who left Rwanda in 1996.

Rusesabagina, who remains in detention, said his arrest was a response to his criticism of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame over allegations of human rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial executions.

Try a ‘charade’, family says

Monday’s decision in Kigali comes more than a year after Rusesabagina disappeared during a visit to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs, accused of supporting the armed wing of his platform. – political opposition form, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The group had claimed responsibility for part of the 2018 and 2019 attacks in the south of the country in which nine Rwandans were killed.

“We knew from the day he was kidnapped that the verdict would be ‘guilty’ on some or all of the false charges. We are glad the trial charade is over,” Rusesabagina’s family said in a statement.

In the early 1990s, Rusesabagina was credited with saving more than 1,000 people by hosting them in the hotel he ran during the genocide in Rwanda, in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu who tried to save them protect were killed.

Rwanda said Rusesabagina would receive a fair trial.

A member of his legal team, Kate Gibson, said that “the one thing that has been surprising watching this horror spectacle unfold over the past year has been the brazenness and openness with which the authorities Rwandan women were willing to systematically violate every right to a fair trial to which Paul was entitled.”

The legal team denounces the “impudence” of the regime

Throughout, Rusesabagina has maintained his innocence and his family claim he was abducted and taken to Rwanda against his will. The court ruled that he was not kidnapped, but was tricked into boarding a charter flight. The Rwandan government said it was traveling to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in Congo.

Rusesabagina said he was gagged and tortured before being imprisoned, but Rwandan authorities have denied this. His lawyer, Felix Rudakemwa, claimed that Rusesabagina’s legal papers had been confiscated by prison authorities. His family feared that he would die of poor health behind bars.

Geoffrey Robertson, watchdog for the Clooney Foundation for Justice, said: “This was a show trial rather than a fair judicial inquiry.”

The Trump administration has never commented on the case, but earlier this year US President Joe Biden’s State Department called for a fair and transparent judicial process.

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