‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero found guilty of terrorism charges

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021 02:00 |
‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina (centre) in the pink inmate’s uniform arriving at Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, surrounded by guards. Photo/AFP

Kigali, Monday

After spending more than a year behind bars and standing trial, the man who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” was found guilty of terrorism-related charges on Monday.

Former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, 67, was tried in Rwanda’s High Court alongside 20 other defendants on a number of charges, including forming an illegal armed group, murder, abduction and armed robbery as an act of terrorism.

While reading the verdict before the Kigali courtroom, Judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said evidence shows that Rusesabagina and the co-accused were part of a terrorist group and committed acts of terrorism, “which they later bragged about in different announcements and videos.”

“They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling,” Mukamurenzi added.

So far, Rusesabagina has been convicted of forming an illegal armed group, being a member of a terrorist group and financing a terrorist group.

The three-judge panel was still reading out the verdict on the other charges.

The charges that Rusesabagina faces stem from his leadership of an exiled opposition coalition called the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, known by its French acronym MRCD.

In 2018, there were a series of deadly attacks on villages in southern Rwanda, near the country’s border with Burundi, and Rwandan authorities inculpated the National Liberation Front, or FLN, which is the armed wing of the MRCD.

In a video statement released later that year, Rusesabagina pledged his “unreserved support” for the FLN, declared Kagame’s government to be “the enemy of the Rwandan people” and called for “any means possible to bring about change.”

Rusesabagina has acknowledged that the MRCD had an armed wing but denied his involvement and has maintained his innocence on all charges.

The 20 other defendants in the trial were accused of being FLN organizers and fighters.

Rusesabagina’s family and attorneys have condemned the closely watched trial as a “sham” and said they were expecting a conviction.

“We are happy that the charade of the trial is ending,” the Rusesabagina family told ABC News in a statement ahead of the verdict.

“We have told the world over and over that there is no fair trial process in Rwanda, and the past months have shown that.

There is no independent judiciary, and there will be no justice for our father.

All we can do now is make this clear to everyone - a dictator will be jailing a humanitarian.”

A decision in the high-profile case was expected a month ago but was postponed, with no reason given for the delay.

Rusesabagina, who has been boycotting the court proceedings since March claiming he was not getting a fair trial, did not physically attend Monday’s session, according to his family and lawyers.

Rusesabagina, a married father of six, was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between the East African nation’s two main ethnic groups came to a head.

The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, slaughtering more than 800,000 people over the course of 100 days, mostly Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to estimates from the United Nations.

More than 1,200 people took shelter in the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda’s history.

Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to protect the hotel’s guests from massacre.

The events were later immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda,” with American actor Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina earning an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2005.

After the movie’s release, Rusesabagina rose to fame and was lauded as a hero.

He also became a prominent and outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in office for the last two decades. - Agencies

More on News