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‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero trial to begin on Tuesday

Monday January 25 2021
Paul Rusesabagina.

"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina in the pink inmate's uniform arrives from the Nyarugenge prison with Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) officers at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 25, 2020. PHOTO | SIMON WOHLFAHRT | AFP

By IVAN R. MUGISHA

Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina will on Tuesday appear in court to answer to several charges related to terrorism, in a trial that is expected to draw international attention due to his global celebrity status.

Mr Rusesabagina is expected to appear alongside 18 other suspects accused of terrorism, arson and kidnap in Rwanda.

The 66-year-old former hotelier will answer to nine charges – reduced from 13 – related to financing terrorism, armed robbery, abduction, arson, attempted murder, assault, and battery.

The long-awaited trial will be held at the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-Border Crimes in Nyanza District High Court, which is about a three-hour drive from Kigali.

His high-profile arrest in August last year attracted international attention, while it also drew the ire of his family and international human rights organisations, which have insisted that he was illegally arrested and flown to Rwanda against his will.

His third and final appeal for bail was denied by the court in December last year on grounds that he is a flight risk and that the crimes he is charged with are of a grave nature.

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On January 21, his lawyers filed a motion at the Rwanda High Court Chamber for International Crimes arguing for the cancellation of proceedings in his case and for his immediate release on grounds that his fundamental rights were violated by the Rwandan government.

“If the Chamber does not stay the proceedings, or even order Rusesabagina’s provisional release, the motion then seeks basic remedies such as access to a paper and pen, an order that the Prison Director stop confiscating all legal documents, access to his designated international lawyers, privileged phone calls with his lawyers, adequate time to prepare for trial and, most importantly, that he be given his prescribed medication for a heart disorder which was provided to the Rwandan authorities by the Belgian Embassy in Kigali, and is still being withheld,” the motion reads.

In mid-January, his daughter Carine Kanimba, who is based in Brussels, penned a letter to President Paul Kagame's daughter Ange Kagame pleading for her intervention in his release. It was not clear by press time whether she received a response.

In previous bail hearings, Mr Rusesabagina admitted to backing rebels that waged war on Rwanda but denied all responsibility for a series of attacks in which nine people were killed, several injured, and property destroyed between 2018 and 2019.

Among the other suspects that he will be tried with include Callixte Nsabimana, the former spokesperson of rebel group FLN, who alleged in a previous court hearing that Mr Rusesabagina was getting finances from the Zambian president to support rebel forces against the Rwandan government. Zambia denied this accusation.

Another co-accused is Herman Nsengimana who also served as the FLN spokesperson until his arrest in January last year. 

Until his arrest, Mr Rusesabagina was a regular critic of President Paul Kagame, often accusing him of human rights violations and dictatorship.

Mr Rusesabagina was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda which depicts his heroic acts in saving over 1,000 people inside a hotel he managed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

He had not stepped foot in Rwanda since 1996. He has been living in Belgium with his family as a citizen and as a permanent resident in the US.

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