Prosecutor demands life sentence for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero — Analysis

In 2021, the man who was portrayed in the Hollywood film as saving many lives was sentenced to 25 years in prison for terrorism offenses.

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 was the manager of Hotel des Mille Collines, the Rwandan capital in Kigali. This is where members of the Tutsi minority sought refuge during the 100-day ethnic cleansing of Hutu extremists. In 1994, more than 800,000.00 Tutsis died alongside moderate Hutus during the genocide.

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.

Rusesabagina became an international icon through the film. This status allowed him to voice his disapproval of President Paul Kagame who has been ruling Rwanda since 1994.

Rusesabagina (a Belgian citizen who has been a US resident since 2020) was tricked into board the plane that would fly from Dubai to Rwanda. There he was arrested.

In September 2018, the 67-year old was placed in 25-year prison on eight terror charges. These were related to the 2018 and 2019 activities of a local militia that claimed the lives of at least nine others.

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero convicted on terror-related charges for backing rebel group while in exile

Although he acknowledged his leadership of Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, (MRCD), he denied responsibility for attacks on the National Liberation Front’s armed wing. The prosecutors maintained that both the MRCD (and FLN) were one organisation.

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.  

On Monday, their appeal in Kigali began with Jean Pierre Habarurema as the prosecutor. “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.

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