‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Jailed for Terrorism

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Hotel Rwanda
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan (Flickr CC0)

Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotelier, acclaimed for saving and sheltering more than 1,000 people at the Hotel des Mille Collines during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, was found guilty of terrorism in the Rwandan High Court and sentenced to 25 years in prison on Sept. 21, 2021. His incarceration has drawn mixed reactions, with many analysts blaming President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for being heavy-handed with his political opponents and the “Hotel Rwanda” hero.

The 67-year-old, who holds a U.S. Green Card, inspired the creation of the acclaimed movie “Hotel Rwanda.” He is depicted as a hero who saved many lives during the Rwandan genocide, which saw more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus dead. He and 20 co-accused defendants have been held behind bars without trial since August 2020. They were charged with nine terror charges, including murder and abduction.

Rusesabagina was arrested then when his plane bound for Burundi was diverted to Kigali, Rwanda. In the verdict, read by Judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero was castigated as being the brains behind the terrorist group in Rwanda. The judge said the terror group “attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”

The verdict has been slated as unfair and has attracted a lot of criticism from human rights groups worldwide. However, the legal team for Rusesabagina has refused to acknowledge the verdict saying the decision was predetermined and the proceedings choreographed.

Kate Gibson, Rusesabagina’s lawyer, said the verdict was “not surprising” and described the trial as a “sham” as there was “no credible evidence” for the conviction of the “Hotel Rwanda” hero, according to media reports.

Hotel Rwanda
Courtesy of Veni (Flickr CC0)

Sophie Wilmes, Belgian Foreign Minister, weighed in on the verdict and labeled it as unfair. She said throughout the trial, the presumption of innocence was never upheld against Rusesabagina.

To that end, Brussels has called for a dialogue with Kigali during the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in New York. However, reports suggest that the Rwandan government is not moved by the criticism saying Brussels must respect the judicial proceedings in their country and no one should side with the “Hotel Rwanda” hero.

However, some analysts have welcomed the verdict against the “Hotel Rwanda” hero, saying he was guilty as charged. Joshua Hammer, author and foreign correspondent, believes that the larger truth is that all evidence shows that Rusesabagina is guilty. He added that the “Hotel Rwanda” hero only attempted to deny his role and responsibility with the terrorist groups when he was arrested.

Rusesabagina’s family has vowed to push for his release. They believe that his incarceration is politically motivated and will not tarnish the heroic impulses that have made the “Hotel Rwanda” hero the image of hope in Rwanda.

Written by Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware

Africanews: Rwanda’s Rusesabagina [Hotel Rwanda hero] is guilty as charged -Analyst
ABCNews: ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina sentenced to 25 years on terrorism charges
Expatica: Kigali cancels talks with Belgium over ‘Hotel Rwanda’ verdict

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Veni’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License