- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The hero of the real life story behind Hollywood blockbuster “Hotel Rwanda” was found guilty of terror-related charges on Monday and sentenced to 25 years in prison, in what experts condemned as an unfair “show trial”.
Paul Rusesabagina, 67, was once lauded internationally for saving more than 1,200 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in his hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, even receiving the highest civilian award in America, the Medal of Freedom.
Now the former hotelier, a Belgian citizen, is facing the rest of his life behind bars for allegedly forming a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
"Rusesabagina is guilty of being a member of a terror group and participating in terror activities," judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Monday. "His act of terrorism led to death.”
At the heart of the trial is Mr Rusesabagina’s involvement with the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a group opposed to President Paul Kagame's rule.
Mr Rusesabagina - who was played by actor Don Cheadle in the 2005 film - has long been an ardent critic of Mr Kagame and his family has slammed the verdict as politically motivated.
"The judges decided what the dictator wanted them to decide, we expected exactly that," said Carine Kanimba, Mr Rusesabagina’s daughter.
That view was echoed by experts.
“This was a show trial, rather than a fair judicial inquiry,” said the British barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, who monitored the trial. “The prosecution evidence against him was unveiled but not challenged.”
Belgium's Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes added: "Despite repeated appeals from Belgium on this matter... Mr Rusesabagina did not benefit from a fair and equitable trial; particularly with regard to the rights of the defence."
"The presumption of innocence was not respected either. These elements de facto call into question the trial and the judgement."
Mr Rusesabagina, who used his fame from "Hotel Rwanda" to denounce Mr Kagame as a "dictator", has been behind bars since his arrest in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in Kigali.
He alleges that he was kidnapped from Dubai and flown secretly to Kigali to be put on trial and that he was tortured in a building he describes as the “Slaughter House”.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the arrest violated international law.
Prosecutors were seeking a life sentence for Mr Rusesabagina on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad.
Mr Rusesabagina has denied all charges.
Mr Kagame is a darling of the West but his government has been plagued by numerous reports of assassinations and looting from eastern Congo.
The president is a famed fan of Arsenal and the north London football club is sponsored by the 'Visit Rwanda' tourism brand in a deal worth tens of millions of pounds a year.
Arsenal declined to comment about the sentencing of Mr Rusesabagina.