All eyes on Kigali as Paul Rusesabagina trial concludes

Friday September 17 2021
'Hotel Rwanda' hero Paul Rusesabagina.

"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina (centre) with his lawyer David Rugaza (right) is seen at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, in this file photo. PHOTO | FILE | AFP


After a seven-months long trial in Kigali, Paul Rusesabagina will know his fate on Monday September 20, 2021, when a judge will rule the nine terrorism-related charges against him.

Rusesabagina, the controversial man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, is not expected to attend the verdict hearing, as he continues to boycott the trial after calling it biased.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.


He was charged with nine crimes related to terrorism, arson, kidnap, and murder, all of which are related to rebel attacks that occurred in southern Rwanda between 2018 and 2019 in which nine people were killed.

In previous hearings, Rusesabagina denied involvement in the rebel attacks, although he founded the opposition group -- the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) -- that prides the FLN as its armed wing-based in eastern DR Congo.


Rusesabagina is charged alongside 20 other members of the FLN rebel group.

His legal team announced a post-verdict press conference to be held on September 21 in Belgium and broadcast online, to assess the trial and ruling details.

The trial -- which has divided opinion in Kigali and across the globe -- has not been short of drama.

His supporters have constantly accused the Rwandan government of kidnapping Mr Rusesabagina, who is a stern critic of President Paul Kagame, while his opponents point to his role in the rebel attacks in Rwanda that left nine people dead, including two children.

One of his international lawyers, Vincent Lurquin, who had jetted into the country on a tourist visa, was deported to Belgium last month for working without a permit after appearing in a Kigali court as one of Mr Rusesabagina’s lawyers.

A day before his deportation, Mr. Lurquin spoke to The EastAfrican in an interview noting that he had sought for authorisation to represent Mr Rusesabagina, but the president of the Rwandan Bar Association, Kavaruganda Julien, had declined to meet him.

Mr Kavaruganda, also noted in an interview that Mr Lurquin had violated Article 279 of the Penal Code which criminalises the act of "wearing a uniform with an intention to mislead the public", in reference to Mr Lurquin's appearance in court while wearing a lawyer's robe.

Coded language

A few days ahead of the verdict hearing, various local media outlets produced detailed excerpts of prosecution evidence linking Mr Rusesabagina to funding and soliciting for weapons for the FLN rebels that conducted attacks against Rwanda.

The reports show that Mr Rusesabagina used coded language from a phone to communicate with FLN rebel commanders -- all obtained from a phone that was seized from Mr Rusesabagina's belongings by Belgium authorities.

His family on Thursday protested the reports, accusing local media of being pro-government.

"Why is the Rwandan social media troll army and the KT Press, a pro-government media outlet,  trying to relitigate and bring in “new” evidence now that the Show Trial of Paul Rusesabagina is over and we are waiting for a verdict on September 20," said a press release issued by his family on Thursday.

"It is now clear that there was no credible evidence linking Paul or his MRCD party to the alleged attacks he is charged with committing. The government put up only two witnesses, neither of whom testified about the attacks."

The strongest move against his arrest came in February in the form of a European Union resolution that condemned his arrest and called for his immediate release.

The move was roundly criticised by the Rwandan Parliament, which accused the EU resolution of being "Imperialistic" and "politically motivated".


The 67-year old former hotelier was arrested in August last year while aboard a private jet to Burundi to meet a preacher.

The preacher, Constantin Niyomwungere, as it turned out, was part of a covert plan by the Rwandan government to lure Mr Rusesabagina into a trap that would get him arrested and sent to Rwanda for trial.

President Kagame has on several occasions defended the manner in which Mr Rusesabagina was arrested.

In his most recent interview on September 5, President Kagame poured cold water over Mr Rusesabagina's celebrity status.

"What he is being tried for and accused of is having a hand in these armed groups and terrorists. This man deserves to be fairly tried in the court of law and is going to be tried as fairly as that can be," President Kagame said.

"He is here being tried for that. Nothing to do with the film. Nothing to do with celebrity status."

Until his arrest last year, Mr Rusesabagina had lived in Belgium as a citizen and was a permanent resident in the US.

While working as a public speaker, mostly in western universities, he became a major opponent of President Kagame, often accusing him of dictatorship and abuse of human rights.