Rwanda’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that Paul Rusesabagina of “Hotel Rwanda” fame and a group of co-defendants are guilty of terrorism-related charges.
“They should be found guilty for being part of this terror group,” said judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi. “They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”
He and 20 others were charged with 13 criminal offenses for their alleged connection to the National Forces of Liberation, or the FLN, a militia group that the Rwandan government accuses of terrorism. Reports in The New Times of Rwanda, a government-controlled newspaper, say prosecutors asked for a life sentence for Rusesabagina and a variety of sentences for the other defendants.
Rusesabagina, the subject of the movie “Hotel Rwanda” for his efforts to save people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has denied all the charges.
Rusesabagina left Rwanda in 1996 and is a Belgian citizen. In recent years, he has been a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame and his government.
Family and advocates say Rusesabagina was effectively abducted in August 2020. After arriving in Dubai, Rusesabagina boarded a private plane and was flown to Rwanda’s capital Kigali, where he was arrested.
Rusesabagina said in interviews after his detention that he believed he was flying to Burundi to speak in churches at the invitation of a friend.
Kate Gibson, one of Rusesabagina’s lawyers, spoke to VOA English to Africa’s Daybreak Africa radio program from Geneva and said Rusesabagina never stood a chance in court.
“It’s our opinion that this is the end of a story that was scripted and written even before Mr. Rusesabagina was kidnapped,” she said. “But there was always a deliberate and decided plan in place that he would be put on trial and convicted by the Rwandan judicial authorities.”
Gibson said Rusesabagina did not receive a fair trial, saying lawyers weren’t allowed to bring documents to him and when documents got through for discussion, they were confiscated. The trial, she said, was “so far below internationally recognized standards for a fair trial that the verdict itself is of no particular consequence.”
Independent observers seem to agree. Representatives from the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Center for Human Rights who have been monitoring the trial as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch echoed the Gibson’s sentiment.
“This so-called trial is not a real adversarial proceeding: it has become a spectacle in which the state’s version of events is not allowed to be challenged. Any conviction that emerges from it cannot be considered credible as it will be based on evidence that has not been properly examined.” Geoffrey Robertson QC, the TrialWatch Expert said.
“It’s an empty verdict because the proceedings that went before it was so manifestly unfair,” Gibson said. Basic rights such as legal assistance, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare and the right to be presumed innocent, were denied, she added.
“Days after Paul’s [Rusesabagina] arrest, high ranking members of the Rwandan authorities including the president [Paul Kagame] came out and said that Paul was guilty,” she said.
VOA English to Africa Service’s James Butty contributed to the report. Some information for this report came from Reuters.