Hotel Rwanda hero goes on trial on terrorism charges

Paul Rusesabagina disappeared in Dubai in August before resurfacing in Kigali

Paul Rusesabagina (centre) attends court with his coaccused at the start of his trial at the supreme court in Kigali, Rwanda  on Wednesday. Photograph: Eugene Uwimana/EPA

Paul Rusesabagina (centre) attends court with his coaccused at the start of his trial at the supreme court in Kigali, Rwanda on Wednesday. Photograph: Eugene Uwimana/EPA

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A businessman portrayed as a hero in the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda went on trial on terrorism charges in Kigali on Wednesday.

Paul Rusesabagina appeared in court alongside 20 other defendants accused of being members of a rebel group, the National Liberation Front (FLN), of which Mr Rusesabagina is accused of being the founder, leader and sponsor.

In a hearing in September, Mr Rusesabagina said the FLN was an armed wing of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which he co-founded, though he denied wrongdoing. Rwandan officials say the group was behind a series of 2018 attacks in Rwanda that caused nine deaths.

Mr Rusesabagina (66) was led into court wearing a pink prison uniform and face mask. A US resident and Belgian citizen, he disappeared in Dubai in August before turning up in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Rwandan officials have suggested he was tricked into making the journey.

In a monitored interview with the New York Times in September, Mr Rusesabagina said he had had no idea where he was for days. “I was taken somewhere,” he said. “I was tied – the leg, the hands, face. I could not see anything.” His family haves since sued the airlinethat took him there.

Last week the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning Mr Rusesabagina’s “enforced disappearance, illegal rendition and incommunicado detention”, and called for a fair trial. In response, the Rwandan parliament issued its own resolution accusing the European Parliament of supporting armed attacks, adding that European citizenship did not entitle one to impunity from African courts.

Kagame

Released in 2004, Hotel Rwanda starred Don Cheadle, and focused on Mr Rusesabagina, the then manager of Kigali’s Hôtel des Mille Collines, as he sheltered people during the 1994 genocide, during which close to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered.

Mr Rusesabagina was credited with saving more than 1,200 lives, and was awarded the US presidential medal of freedom by George W Bush. A critic of the regime of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, he left the country in the 1990s and his family say he would not willingly go back.

Mr Kagame (63) came to power in the aftermath of the genocide and was elected president in 2000. In 2017, he was re-elected for a third term. Critics call him a dictator, saying he has used the memory of what happened to shut down dissent, while ordering murders of his opponents abroad.

His supporters point to the lasting peace and impressive development in the Great Lakes country of roughly 13 million people.