Rwanda – The hero of “Hotel Rwanda” must serve 25 years in prison

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Opponent of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Paul Rusesabagina, was sentenced in September last year to 25 years in prison. His verdict is upheld on appeal.

REUTERS

Rwanda’s appellate court on Monday upheld the 25-year prison sentence for “terrorism” to opponent Paul Rusesabagina, dismissing the indictment by the prosecution, which wanted a harsher sentence against the former hotel owner made famous by the movie “Hotel Rwanda”.

“Given that he is a first-time offender, the court believes that his sentence should not be increased because the 25 years he has obtained are commensurate with the weight of his crimes and the court upholds his sentence,” the judge said François. Regis Rukundakuvuga, after nearly seven hours of hearing.

Paul Rusesabagina, known for being a virulent opponent of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was sentenced in September to 25 years in prison for “founding and belonging to” the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group accused of carrying out assassinations. . in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.

The prosecution, which had requested life imprisonment, had appealed and wanted his sentence increased. The prosecutor had also appealed the sentences – from 3 to 20 years in prison – sentenced to his 20 co-defendants.

Rusesabagina, 67, and his family have always denied these allegations and condemned a lawsuit aimed at slashing an opponent. He was not present Monday when the verdict was read. His family, which continues to warn of his state of health, announced in mid-January that he “would not participate in the staging of the appeal to a political prisoner”. The accused and his lawyers had already boycotted the majority of court hearings in the first instance and condemned a “political” trial as well as ill-treatment in prison.

“Removal”

Paul Rusesabagina was made famous by the film “Hotel Rwanda” released in 2004, which tells how this moderate hutu who ran the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali saved more than 1,000 people during the genocide in 1994, in which 800,000 people were killed, according to the UN , mainly from the Tutsi minority.

Rusesabagina, who for more than 20 years was opposed to Paul Kagame, whom he accused of authoritarianism and of fueling anti-Hutu sentiments, used his Hollywood fame to give a global echo to his views. He had been living in exile in the United States and Belgium since 1996, before being arrested in Kigali in August 2020 under turbulent circumstances when he got off a plane he thought was on his way to Burundi. His family condemned a “kidnapping” organized by them by the Rwandan authorities.

The Rwandan government admitted to having “facilitated the journey” of Rusesabagina to Kigali, but claimed that his arrest was “legal” and that “his rights were never violated”. In March, the UN Arbitration Detention Working Group concluded that Rusesabagina had been “abducted” and that his detention was “arbitrary”, and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Worrying health

Contacted by AFP, the daughter of Paul Rusesabagina confirmed before the Court of Appeal’s decision that “this verdict handed down by a prejudiced court on the orders of the power had no legitimacy” and reiterated that it was a “spectacle process” aimed at silencing any resistance.

“Our focus now is exclusively on our father’s health. My dad recently had a stroke in prison. He now has a partial facial paralysis. (…) He is ill and in urgent need of medical treatment “, Carine Kanimba emphasized and confirmed:” Paul Kagame will kill him if we do nothing “. The sentencing in the first instance had caused great concern in the international community.

Belgium, of which Rusesabagina is a national, considered that he “had not benefited from a fair and just trial”. The United States, which awarded him the President’s Medal of Freedom in 2005, said it was “concerned” about the verdict.

In early October, MEPs called for his release for “humanitarian reasons” and his repatriation to Belgium. To put pressure on Kigali, MEPs had also called on the European Commission to “critically review EU aid” to Rwandan institutions and government.

(AFP)

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