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Hollywood Hotel Rwanda Hero Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison

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The man who inspired the award-winning Hollywood Film Hotel Rwanda has been sentenced to 25 years in jail on terrorism charges. Paul Rusesabagina became a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame and used his fame to highlight what he described as rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.

Paul Rusesabagina refused to come to court with his co-accused to hear the verdict of his trial in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. He was charged with terrorism and related offences, prosecutors said he was behind a series of attacks that happened in Rwanda three years ago.

Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi’s verdict: “With regard to Rusesabagina Paul, is convicted of being a member of an illegal group and participating in terror activities that he’s acquitted of creating an illegal armed group. Therefore, Rusesabagina Paul is sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.”

Rwandan prosecutors had sought a life sentence for the former hotelier, credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide. But Mukamurenzi said the term “should be reduced to 25 years” as it was his first conviction.

Rusesabagina Paul was flown from Dubai to Kigali last year against his will. Rwanda’s government suggested he was deceived into boarding a plane that it paid for. International legal observers say that was just the first of many problems with the trial. His family has rejected the verdict.

Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba’s voice: “My father was tortured, kidnapped, denied his basic rights, and then now they’ve just given him a guilty verdict, the co-accused came on the stand and said that they had been forced, coerced and tortured into saying false things against my father, and the witnesses are paid by government agents.”

Rusesabagina Paul was made famous by the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda. He told the story of how he saved hundreds of lives as a hotel manager during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. He then fled into exile, became a vocal critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. He pledged support for an opposition armed group of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The group had claimed some responsibility for attacks in 2018 and 2019 in the south of the country in which nine Rwandans. Prosecutors said Rusesabagina funded the armed group and ordered attacks. Rusesabagina denied it. Most of his co-accused pled guilty, and their statements were used as evidence against him.

Rusesabagina Paul hasn’t left jail for the last six months, because he has refused to participate in the court proceedings. All of the defendants now have the opportunity to appeal at the Court of Appeal within the next 15 days. Rusesabagina and his supporters have completely rejected all of these legal proceedings to date.

Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen and a resident of the US. Rusesabagina was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts during the genocide. Both governments have criticized the trial. Rwanda’s government says justice is being delivered. If he serves the 25-year sentence, Rusesabagina, who’s 67 years old, will likely die in jail.

The Rwandan government has long been accused of targeting opponents living in exile, allegations it has always denied.

Story inspired by Aljazeera.

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