May 18, 2022

Image credit: Aljazeera

Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina charged with terrorism

A Rwanda court has found a man guilty of terrorism after he was presented in a film as a life-saving hero during the Rwandan genocide.

Paul Rusesabagina, 67, was convicted of supporting an exiled rebel group that killed nine people in 2018. His family claims he was kidnapped and transferred to Rwanda forcibly. They’ve also claimed that he didn’t get a fair trial. As his criticism of the government escalated, Rusesabagina went from celebrated figure to state enemy.

He was initially praised for his efforts to save some individuals from being slain during the genocide. 800,000 people, largely from the Tutsi ethnic group, were massacred in a 100-day period beginning in April 1994. Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle in the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, was depicted protecting over 1,000 individuals who had sought refuge as a hotel manager.

Some survivors have raised doubts about this account of events. However, as Rusesabagina’s profile grew following the film’s publication in 2005, so did his criticism of the post-genocide government and President Paul Kagame. He spoke out against human rights violations and said that the government was discriminating against Hutus.

Rusesabagina went on to lead an opposition alliance with an armed branch, the National Liberation Front, while living in exile (FLN). In a 2018 video message, he called for regime change saying that “the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda”. The FLN was accused of carrying out attacks in 2018 in which the authorities said nine people were killed. Rusesabagina said he never asked anyone to target civilians but did admit to sending the group money.

Rusesabagina’s family claims he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda against his will last year. However, one witness testified in court about duping Rusesabagina into boarding a plane in Dubai by telling him it was flying to Burundi, not Rwanda. Rusesabagina withdrew from the trial shortly after it began in March of this year, claiming that he was not being given a fair trial. Twenty others were tried alongside Rusesabagina, some of whom were FLN members who testified against him. Rusesabagina faces a life sentence, according to the prosecutor.