Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina jailed for 25 years on terror charges

Critics say ‘show trial’ conviction highlights crackdown on opponents by Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame

Paul Rusesabagina sitting with some of his co-accused at the supreme court in Kigali in February. Photograph: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images

Paul Rusesabagina sitting with some of his co-accused at the supreme court in Kigali in February. Photograph: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images

 

A Rwandan court has sentenced Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired a Hollywood film about the country’s 1994 genocide and is an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, to 25 years in jail for “terrorism”.

The National Liberation Front (FLN), which opposes the Kagame government, is accused of carrying out attacks in Rwanda.

“The court finds that owing to the testimonies heard, evidence presented ... we find there’s a prima facie case against Mr Rusesabagina on the charge of creation and being a member of a terror group,” said judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Monday.

“We find Rusesabagina’s role in creating FLN, his provision of funds and purchasing for them secure phones to use, all constitute the crime of committing terrorism. We therefore find him culpable of the crime of terrorism,” she added. His family and lawyers monitoring his case say Mr Rusesabagina did not receive a fair trial.

To critics, the arrest of a Belgian citizen and recipient of the US presidential medal of freedom highlights allegations that Mr Kagame’s government, which has won accolades for turning the country round after the genocide, aggressively cracks down on opponents at home and abroad. Mr Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front ended the 1994 genocide, in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, with a military victory.

A divisive figure in his home country, Mr Rusesabagina was arrested last year after what his daughters described as a “kidnapping” by Rwandan authorities. He was scheduled to take a flight from Dubai to Burundi but was detained in Kigali.

“My father was kidnapped, tortured and then forced to face a sham trial all because he dared call on human rights abuses in Rwanda. There is no fair trial process in Rwanda. There is no independent judiciary and there is no justice for our father,” said Anaïse Kanimba, his daughter.

‘Show trial’

Mr Kagame has denied that Mr Rusesabagina was “kidnapped” by the authorities: “There was no kidnap. There was not any wrongdoing in the process of his getting here. He got here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do.”

This month, Mr Kagame said during a national broadcast that “this man deserves to be fairly tried in the court of law and is going to be tried in the court of law as fair as that can be. And there is nothing going to be short of that”.

But Geoffrey Robertson QC, an international human rights lawyer and the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch expert on the case, said: “This was a show trial rather than a fair judicial inquiry. 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.”

Mr Rusesabagina won international acclaim after the success of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, in which he was portrayed by Don Cheadle. In his 2006 autobiography, An Ordinary Man, he describes how he was able to hide more than 1,200 people inside the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali. But critics, including Mr Kagame, have contested his account.

“This lengthy trial has exposed the terrorist activities of the FLN group led by Rusesabagina. The evidence against the accused was indisputable,” said Yolande Makolo, spokeswoman for Rwanda’s government. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021