After what his supporters called a politically orchestrated show trial, Paul Rusesabagina, the “Hotel Rwanda“ hero who became a fiercely outspoken government critic, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges on Monday. A Kigali high court found him guilty of creating a rebel group that was responsible for deadly gun, grenade, and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
At the end of a seven-month trial, Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi remarked, “He created a terrorist organization that attacked Rwanda, and he financially contributed to terrorist actions.” Rusesabagina, a 67-year-old former hotelier credited for saving over 1,200 lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and whose deeds inspired the Hollywood blockbuster, had faced a life sentence from Rwandan authorities.
However, because it was Mukamurenzi’s first conviction, he believes the sentence “should be lowered to 25 years.” Rusesabagina’s family has expressed concern about his health, and neither he nor his lawyers were present in court for the verdict. He is likely to file an appeal. The hearing was attended by the other 20 suspects in the case, who were chained and clad in pastel pink prison uniforms.
The court, which was filled with journalists and diplomats from various embassies, was surrounded by security officers. Rusesabagina, who exploited his celebrity to call Rwandan President Paul Kagame a dictator, has been detained since August 2020, when a plane he thought was going to Burundi instead landed in Kigali.
Rusesabagina was kidnapped, according to his family, and he denied the nine charges leveled against him as retaliation by a spiteful government for his outspoken opinions. Rusesabagina was indicted not because of his celebrity, but because of the lives lost “as a result of his conduct,” Kagame said earlier this month.