Paul Rusesabagina, a man portrayed in a film as a life-saving hero during the Rwandan 1994 genocide has been found guilty by a Rwandan court on Monday of being part of a group responsible for terrorist attacks and sentenced to 25 years in jail.
“Rusesabagina is guilty of being a member of a terror group and participating in terror activities,” judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said. “His act of terrorism led to death.”
Initially, he was hailed for his acts during the genocide 27 years ago, which prevented some people being killed.
Rusesabagina, 67 and a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame in the Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda, played by Don Cheadle, was shown as a hotel manager who managed to protect more than 1,000 people who had sought shelter.
In a period of 100 days from April 1994, 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were slaughtered by extremists from the Hutu community.
Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for the role and Rusesabagina received the Medal of Freedom; the highest civilian award from President George W. Bush in 2005.
He has denied all charges and said he was kidnapped from Dubai last year and forcibly taken to Rwanda to be put on trial. His supporters called the trial a sham.
But in court, one witness spoke about how he had tricked Rusesabagina on to a plane in Dubai by telling him it was flying to neighbouring Burundi, not Rwanda.
In March this year, Rusesabagina withdrew from the trial shortly after it began, saying that he was not being given a fair hearing and did not appear in court months after.
Rusesabagina’s father was Hutu and his mother and wife were Tutsi. He became a Belgian citizen after the genocide and lived in exile in the United States until last year.
There are 20 other defendants tried with him including Callixte Nsabimana, popularly known as Sankara, who was a spokesman for the National Liberation Front (FLN) and told the court Rusesabagina was not a member of the armed wing; Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD). The judges said the two groups were indistinguishable, referring to them as the MRCD-FLN.
The FLN was accused of carrying out attacks in 2018 that the authorities said killed nine people. Rusesabagina said he never asked anyone to target civilians but admitted that he sent money to the group.
The prosecution had asked for a life sentence for Rusesabagina on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad.