Life sentence sought for 'Hotel Rwanda' hero

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Paul Rusesabagina looks on as he sits with some of his coaccused at the Supreme Court in Kigali.
Paul Rusesabagina looks on as he sits with some of his coaccused at the Supreme Court in Kigali.
Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP
  • Rwandan prosecutors on Thursday sought a life sentence for "Hotel Rwanda" hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina.
  • Rusesabagina is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters, family, relatives and defence.
  • During the trial his co-defendants have given conflicting testimony over the level of Rusesabagina's involvement with the FLN and its fighters.


Prosecutors in Rwanda on Thursday sought a life sentence for "Hotel Rwanda" hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.

"We have shown that every act by Rusesabagina was criminal in nature with the intent to commit terrorism," said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema, during a seven-hour hearing.

"We therefore request that he is given the maximum sentence provided for by the law, which is life imprisonment."

The 67-year-old former manager of Kigali's Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film that told how he saved more than 1 000 people who sheltered in his hotel during the genocide, a decade earlier, in which an estimated 800 000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.

Kagame's government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for gun, grenade and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.

Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in those attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.

He was arrested in August when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed in Kigali instead, a move his supporters describe as a kidnapping. He faces nine charges, including terrorism.

"As a leader, sponsor and supporter of MRCD/FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda," said Habarurema.

"Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters."

During the trial his co-defendants have given conflicting testimony over the level of Rusesabagina's involvement with the FLN and its fighters.

His family, relatives and defence team have denounced the trial as political and complained of ill-treatment while in detention.

His daughter Carine Kanimba wrote on Twitter on Thursday:

My father Paul Rusesabagina is a political prisoner. He is accused of invented charges and ZERO evidence against him has been presented... He was kidnapped, tortured and denied all his human rights. Paul Kagame wants to silence him - it will not work.

'Farce' 

Since March, Rusesabagina has refused to attend his own trial in protest at the court's refusal to grant a postponement for him to prepare his defence.

"This trial was a farce from start to finish," said Hotel Rwanda Foundation spokesperson Kitty Kurth in a statement denouncing proceedings as "a show put on by the Rwandan government to silence a critic and chill future dissent."

The manner of his arrest and subsequent trial has sparked international condemnation, including from the US, Europe and Belgium, as well as from human rights groups.


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