LONDON – After spending more than a year behind bars, the man who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” must know his fate.
A Rwandan judge is due to deliver a verdict on Monday in the closely watched trial of former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and 20 co-defendants, who are charged with terrorism-related offenses. A decision in the high-profile case was expected a month ago but has been postponed, with no reason given for the delay.
Rusesabagina, who has been tried on a number of charges including murder and terrorist financing, could face 25 years in life in prison if convicted. He proclaimed his innocence, while his family and lawyers condemned the trial as a “sham”.
“We are happy that the masquerade of the trial is over,” the Rusesabagina family told ABC News in a statement ahead of the verdict. “We assume they will end the sham by convicting him on Monday. We have been telling the whole world that there is no fair trial in Rwanda, and the past few months have shown it. there is no independent judiciary, and we won’t be doing justice to our father. All we can do now is make everyone understand that a dictator will jail a humanitarian . “
Rusesabagina, 67, married with six children, was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between the two main ethnic groups in the East African nation came to a head . The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to eliminate the Tutsi ethnic minority, massacring more than 800,000 people in 100 days, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to United Nations estimates.
More than 1,200 people took refuge at the Hôtel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter in Rwandan history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his work and connections with the Hutu elite to protect hotel guests from the massacre. The events were then immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda”, with the portrayal of Rusesabagina by American actor Don Cheadle who won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 2005.
After the film was released, Rusesabagina rose to fame and was hailed as a hero. He has also become a prominent and outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in office for two decades. Some genocide survivors who stayed at the Hôtel des Mille Collines have since accused Rusesabagina of having exaggerated his role to save them or even to profit from it.
Rusesabagina, who fled Rwanda with his family in 1996 and is now a Belgian citizen and permanent resident of the United States, traveled to Dubai on August 27, 2020 to meet with a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina said had invited to speak in churches. in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. Later that night, the couple hopped on a private jet that Rusesabagina said would take them to the capital of Burundi, according to Rusesabagina’s international legal team.
Rusesabagina was unaware that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali.
Rwandan prosecutors allege that Rusesabagina wanted to travel to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The charges against Rusesabagina stem from his leadership of an opposition coalition in exile called the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, known by its French acronym MRCD. In 2018, there was a series of deadly attacks on villages in southern Rwanda, near the country’s border with Burundi, and Rwandan authorities indicted the National Liberation Front, or FLN, which is the branch. MRCD army. In a video statement released later in the year, Rusesabagina pledged his “wholehearted support” to the FLN, said Kagame’s government was “the enemy of the Rwandan people” and called for “all possible means to bring about change “.
Rusesabagina admitted that the MRCD had an armed wing but denied its involvement. The 20 other defendants at the trial are accused of being organizers and fighters of the FLN.
Rusesabagina’s whereabouts were unknown for several days until the Rwandan authorities paraded him in handcuffs during a press conference at the RIB headquarters in Kigali on August 31, 2020. Rusesabagina alleges that he was bound and in his eyes bandaged by RIB agents who took him from the plane to an undisclosed location. place where he was gagged and tortured before being imprisoned, according to an affidavit which includes a commemoration of a conversation between Rusesabagina and one of his Rwandan lawyers. The RIB has denied the allegations.
Since then, Rusesabagina has been held in a prison in the Rwandan capital, including more than eight months in solitary confinement, according to his international legal team. The UN Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is torture.
Rusesabagina’s family and legal representatives accused the Rwandan authorities of kidnapping and illegally bringing him to the country. The Rwandan government admitted paying for the plane that took Rusesabagina to Kigali, but Kagame said there was no fault because he was “brought here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do “.
Rusesabagina’s trial in his home country has gained worldwide attention since it began in February, with his family and lawyers calling on the international community to intervene. They said his privileged documents were routinely confiscated in prison and that he was denied access to his international legal team, including his senior lawyer, Kate Gibson, who previously represented Rwandan defendants in criminal courts. United Nations Internationals for Rwanda.
“Paul Rusesabagina’s inevitable conviction is the end of a script that was written even before his kidnapping in August 2020,” Gibson told ABC News in a statement ahead of Monday’s verdict. “The only thing that has been surprising watching this horror show unfold over the past year has been the boldness and openness with which the Rwandan authorities have been willing to systematically violate all rights to one. fair trial to which Paul was entitled. “
“Rwandans have had every opportunity to present their judicial system and to organize the fairest trials,” she added. “They did the opposite.”
Rusesabagina’s family and lawyers have also expressed concern over his health and treatment behind bars. They said he was a cancer survivor who suffered from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and was denied his prescribed medication.
“If the international community does not intervene,” the family said, “he will likely remain in prison for the rest of his life.”