Paul Rusesabagina, the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero who became a fierce government critic, has been found guilty on terror charges .
The 67-year-old 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 at the end of a seven-month trial on Monday, September 20.
Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.
Rusesabagina and his lawyers were absent in court for the verdict, although the 20 other defendants in the case attended.
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.
His family say Rusesabagina was kidnapped and had rejected the nine charges against him as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views.
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’.
The trial began in February but the Belgian citizen and US green card holder boycotted it starting in March, accusing the court of ‘unfairness and a lack of independence’.
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.
Kagame’s government accused Rusesabagina of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for the attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
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.
‘MRCD-FLN commited terror acts. MRCD cannot be separated from military acts’ of FLN, said the judge, Mukamurenzi.
Prosecutors in June said Rusesabagina ‘encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts’.
But his co-defendants gave conflicting testimony about the level of Rusesabagina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters.