'Hotel Rwanda' hero Paul Rusesabagina found guilty on terror charges

Monday September 20 2021
Jaen Paul

In this file photo taken on September 14, 2020 "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina (R) is handcuffed by a police officer after his pre-trial court session at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda. AFP

By AFP

Kigali. Paul Rusesabagina, the "Hotel Rwanda" hero who became a fierce government critic, was found guilty on Monday on terror charges after what his supporters say was a politically motivated show trial.

He was convicted of backing a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.

"He founded a terrorist organisation that attacked Rwanda, he financially contributed to terrorist activities," Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of Rusesabagina.

Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the 67-year-old former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.

Rusesabagina, who used his fame to denounce Rwandan leader Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

Earlier this month, Kagame had dismissed criticism of the case, saying Rusesabagina was in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost "because of his actions".

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The United States -- which awarded Rusesabagina its Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 -- along with the European Parliament and Belgium were among those to raise concerns about his transfer to Rwanda and the fairness of his trial.

Rusesabagina was the former manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he sheltered hundreds of guests during the genocide that left 800,000 people dead, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

He soon became disillusioned with the new Tutsi-dominated government led by Kagame, the rebel leader-turned president whose forces ended the mass killings.

Abroad, he used his global platform to crusade for political change in Kigali, and developed close ties with opposition groups in exile.

Rusesabagina denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.

Prosecutors in June said Rusesabagina "encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts".

His family, who have campaigned globally for his release, say Rusesabagina is a political prisoner and accuse the Rwandan authorities of torturing him in custody.

In July, meanwhile, a media investigation claimed that Rusesabagina's daughter Carine Kanimba was spied on using Pegasus malware developed by Israeli company NSO.