The hero of “Rwanda Hotel” awaits sentencing on terrorism charges

File photo of Paulo Rusabagina, escorted by security personnel, who are facing trial in Rwanda afp_tickers

This content was published on Sep 20, 2021 – 06:22

(AFP)

A court is due to rule on Monday against “Hotel Rwanda” star-turned-critic Paul Russabgina, who faces terrorism charges in a case his supporters say is politically motivated.

Rwandan prosecutors have called for a life sentence for Rusabagina, 67, a former hotel manager credited with saving hundreds of people during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the 2004 Hollywood production.

Rusabagina, who used his prestige to denounce Rwandan ruler Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane believed to be bound for Burundi landed in Kigali.

He is accused of supporting a rebel group attributed to deadly attacks with guns, grenades and arson in 2018 and 2019 in Rwanda.

His family says that Resbagina was kidnapped and asserts that the nine charges against him, including terrorism, are in retaliation for the government’s criticism of him.

For his part, Kagame dismissed criticism of the case, saying that Rossapgina was detained not because of his fame, but because of the lives he lost “due to his actions”.

“He’s being prosecuted for it, it has nothing to do with the movie, it has nothing to do with his celebrity status,” Kagame said weeks ago in a TV interview.

The trial of Rospagina and 20 others began in February, but the accused, who has Belgian citizenship and resides in the United States, has boycotted the process since March, noting that the court was “arbitrary and lacking independence.”

The United States, which awarded Rospagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and the European Parliament and Belgium have raised concerns about the legality of the trial.

The Lantos Foundation, an American human rights organization, has urged the UK to reject the credentials of Kigali’s new ambassador to London, Johnston Businge, noting that as justice minister he played a central role in the “kidnapping” of Rossabagina.

The judge in charge of the case, Antoine Muhima, defended the process and asserted that none of the accused had been denied the right to speak.

The ruling was originally scheduled for August but was postponed to Monday.

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Rospagina was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where it hosted hundreds of people during the genocide that left 800,000 people dead, mostly Tutsis.

A decade later, American actor Don Cheadle portrayed him in the Academy Award-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, which revealed the story to an international audience.

The Russabjina, a moderate Hutu, soon became disillusioned with the government of Kagame, the rebel leader-turned-president whose forces ended the massacre.

The president was accused of authoritarian tendencies and left Rwanda in 1996 to live in Belgium and the United States.

Outside the country, he used his global platform to campaign for political change in Kigali, and forged links with opposition groups in exile.

Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front, a rebel group accused of carrying out attacks in 2018 and 2019 that left nine people dead.

Rospagina has denied any role in the attacks but was one of the founders of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition group that considers the National Liberation Front its armed wing.

The other defendants gave mixed testimonies about the level of Rossapgina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters.

His family has campaigned around the world for his release, saying he is a political prisoner and accusing the Rwandan authorities of torturing him.

In July, a press investigation revealed that Rosabagina’s daughter, Karen Kanimba, had been the target of spying using Israeli-made Pegasus software.

Investigators confirmed that a mobile phone belonging to Kanimba, who holds Belgian and American citizenship, was tapped several times.

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