The hero of “Hotel Rwanda” sentenced to 25 years: he saved 1,200 people from the genocide
From national hero to prison for terrorism. Paul Rusesabagina, the former Rwandan hotelier who became famous around the world for saving more than a thousand people of Tutsi ethnicity during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, was sentenced in his country of origin to a 25-year sentence for founding and funded a terrorist organization.
Rusesabagina, whose humanitarian commitment was immortalized in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda”, has over the years become increasingly critical of President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi commander in power in Rwanda for more than twenty years.
During the war between Hutus and Tutsis in 1994, in which more than a million people lost their lives in just 100 days, Rusesabagina distinguished himself for having hosted more than 1,200 Tutsis in the hotel he was director of, managing to deal with the militiamen hutu to thwart an attack by hundreds of fighters armed with “spears, machetes and rifles”, as recounted in his autobiography.
The film inspired by his story, which earned an Oscar nomination for the actor who played him, Don Cheadle, had made him a celebrity globally, leading him to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by George W. Bush in 2005.
Rusesabagina, who after the conflict in Rwanda had obtained asylum in Belgium where he was a taxi driver, in recent years has used his fame to denounce human rights violations by the Kagame government, accused this time of violating the rights of the Hutus.
After being repatriated last year in what his family called a “kidnapping”, the “African Schindler” was arrested and accused of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed wing of the group of opponents of the United States. foreign country of which Rusesabagina was at the helm, the Movement for Democratic Change (Mrcd).
The 67-year-old, who in recent months had decided to withdraw from the trial, arguing that his rights as a defendant were not guaranteed, denied that the FLN is a terrorist group. “I don’t deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” he said. The organization declared itself partly responsible for some attacks carried out in 2018 and 2019 in the south of the country, which caused the death of 9 Rwandans.
President Kagame denied that Rusesabagina was forcibly forced to come to Rwanda, speaking of a simple mistake. During the trial, the person who accompanied him on his trip from Dubai reported that he had deceived him, telling him that he was on his way to Burundi.
“This verdict means nothing to us. Our father was kidnapped, ”daughter Carine Kanimba told al-Jazeera, calling her father a“ political prisoner ”. “My father knows that his rights have been violated (…) that’s why he decided to leave the trial, it’s all political,” he said.