"Hotel Rwanda" Hero Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Paul Rusesabagina-a former hotel manager who was represented as a hero in a Hollywood movie about the 1994 genocide-was sentenced on Monday 20th September 2021 to 25 years in prison by a Rwandan court for being found guilty of being a member a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks

"Hotel Rwanda" Hero Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Rusesabagina rejected Monday's sentence after stating that he did not expect justice in what he describes as a false trial.

Since his ‘abduction’ as he calls it, from Dubai by the Rwandan authorities in August 2020, the case has attracted attention. He is accused of supporting the armed faction of his opposition political party, Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The organization was responsible for the attacks in the south of the country in 2018 and 2019, where 9 Rwandans were killed.

Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said that Rusesabagina ‘founded a terrorist organization that attacked Rwanda and he financially contributed to terrorist activities.’

Rwandan prosecutors demanded that the former hotel manager, who saved more than 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide and is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, be sentenced to life imprisonment. But Mukamurenzi said that because this is his first conviction, the sentence should be "reduced to 25 years."

Since he was played by the actor Don Cheadle as the protagonist of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina, who lives in the United States, became a severe critic of President Paul Kagame. Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba told Al Jazeera in Brussels that her father should be freed and permitted to return to home.

“This verdict means nothing for us. Our father was kidnapped,” Kanimba stated. “He was dragged across international borders in violation of international law.”

“My father knows that his rights were violated … that’s why he decided to step out of the trial, and this is all political,” she said adding that her father was “a political prisoner”. “The charges are completely invented.”

Michela Wrong, author of “Do Not Disturb, The Story of a Political Murder”, a book about murder of Rwandan defector Patrick Karegeya, told Al Jazeera the verdict was unmistakably a message to the opposition.

“This seems like a show trial, which is really aimed at silencing dissent, making sure that anyone standing up, criticizing and challenging Kagame is simply will not be allowed to do that,” she said.

“The verdict is making clear to people who are in the diaspora and criticizing Kagame that the government can get them wherever they are.”

Rusesabagina supporters refer to the trial as more evidence of President Kagame’s brutal treatment of his political rivals while Rusesabagina denied all charges against him. The Rwandan government stated that Rusesabagina would get a fair trial, but this has aroused international attention. 36 US senators wrote to President Kagame asking for Rusesabagina’s freedom, in December.

The prosecutor demanded life imprisonment on nine counts, including "terrorism", arson, hostage-taking, and the formation of an armed rebel organization that he led from abroad. Rusesabagina became an international celebrity after the 2004 movie which showed how he risked his life during the 100-day genocide, to hide hundreds of people in a luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda,

Rusesabagina used his fame to draw attention to what he called human rights violations by the Kagame government. Kagame was a Tutsi rebel commander who rose to power after his forces occupied Kigali and stopped the genocide. Kagame’s government has vehemently denied using arrests and extrajudicial killings targeting opposition forces.  

Rusesabagina trial has been going on since February, six months after he touched down in Kigali from Dubai. His supporters said he was kidnapped, however, the Rwandan government claimed that he was deceived into boarding a private jet.

Rusesabagina stated that he was gagged and brutalized before he was taken to jail, but the Rwandan authorities denied this. Felix Rudakemwa, Rusesabagina’s lawyer stated that Rusesabagina's legal papers were seized by the prison. His family is concerned that he might die in a prison from poor health.