Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to shelter more than 1,000 people during the 1994 genocide in Central Africa inspired the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’, should face life in prison instead of the 25-year sentence he received for terrorism charges, a Rwandan prosecutor has told a court.
Rusesabagina managed the Hotel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, where many members of the Tutsi ethnic minority found shelter during some 100 days of ethnic cleansing by Hutu extremists. The 1994 genocide saw more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed.
A decade later, Rusesabagina’s story became the basis for the Oscar-nominated ‘Hotel Rwanda’, in which the leading role was played by Don Cheadle.
The movie made Rusesabagina an internationally recognized figure, and he used this status to criticize what he called abuses by President Paul Kagame, who has ruled Rwanda since 1994.
In 2020, Rusesabagina, who is a Belgian citizen and US resident, was tricked into boarding a plane from Dubai to Rwanda, where he was taken into custody.
Last September, the 67-year-old was handed 25 years behind bars on eight terrorism charges, stemming from the activities of a local armed group in 2018 and 2019 that left at least nine people dead.
He acknowledged being one of the leaders of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), but denied any responsibility for the attacks blamed on its armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FLN). The prosecutors, however, insisted that the MRCD and FLN were one organization.
Rusesabagina has claimed that the whole trial was politically motivated, and he was only prosecuted because of his opposition to Kagame’s presidency.
The prosecutors, who had initially insisted on a life sentence for the defendant, were dissatisfied with last year’s ruling.
Their appeal began in Kigali on Monday, with prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema telling the court: “We don’t agree with the decision to give Rusesabagina a 25-year sentence instead of life imprisonment.”
“Given the significance of the charges of which Rusesabagina was convicted and the impact of those crimes on people and their assets, he should not be given a lenient sentence. He should be given life imprisonment,” Habarurema argued.
Rusesabagina wasn’t present at the hearing as he stopped attending court sessions last year, arguing that he wasn’t going to receive a fair trial anyway.