Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was dramatized in the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” was convicted of terrorism charges in a Rwandan court Monday.
Rusesabagina was convicted of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group associated with the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) political party. Rusesabagina has admitted to sending the FLN money, according to the BBC, but has denied calling for the group to target civilians. Rusesabagina and MRCD are staunch opponents of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who conquered the country during the 1994 Rwandan Civil War and has held office since 2000. (RELATED: ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Paul Rusesabagina Arrested On Terror Charges, Police Say)
Rusesabagina is best known as the manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines during the 1994 Rwandan Civil War and accompanying genocide. He saved up to 1200 minority Tutsis from Hutu militia members. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2005 for his efforts.
The man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” Paul Rusesabagina, has been found guilty by a court in Kigali of being part of a terror group https://t.co/XVKMdR2geQ
— CNN (@CNN) September 20, 2021
Living in exile in Belgium and then San Antonio, Texas, following a 1996 assassination attempt, Rusesabagina called for Rwandans to “use any means possible to bring about change,” in 2018. Kagame amended the constitution in 2015 to hold on to power. He won more 98% of the vote in his most recent election after banning a leading opposition figure from running and imprisoning her.
Rusesabagina’s arrest is the latest example of Kagame’s repression, his family said. Rusesabagina’s daughter described the arrest as an “outright kidnapping,” following reports that he was tricked onto the wrong flight in Dubai. Thirty-seven members of Congress called for Rusesabagina’s release in December 2020, saying that his rendition “demonstrated a disregard for U.S. law.”
A witness admitted in court to tricking Rusesabagina onto a Rwanda-bound plane in Dubai, telling him that it was headed for neighboring Burundi, the BBC reported.
Rusesabagina faces up to life in prison.
“The United States is concerned by the Government of Rwanda’s conviction of U.S. lawful permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina on September 20,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “The reported lack of fair trial guarantees calls into question the fairness of the verdict. We have consistently highlighted the importance of respect for all applicable legal protections throughout these proceedings and have raised concerns that these protections were not addressed in an impartial manner consistent with Rwanda’s international commitments. We are concerned by the objections Mr. Rusesabagina raised related to his lack of confidential, unimpeded access to his lawyers and relevant case documents and his initial lack of access to counsel. We urge the Government of Rwanda to take steps to examine these shortcomings in Mr. Rusesabagina’s case and establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future.”