Verdict in trial of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero delayed until September

Prosecutors seeking life sentence for Paul Rusesabagina, whom they accuse of backing the National Liberation Front rebel group.

Paul Rusesabagina
In this file photo from September 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, centre, speaks with lawyers after his pretrial court session at the Kicukiro Primary Court in Kigali, Rwanda [File: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP]

A Rwandan court will deliver next month its delayed verdict in the terrorism trial of Paul Rusesabagina, the Hotel Rwanda hero-turned-government critic, the judiciary has announced.

Initially, a decision in the highly watched case against the 67-year-old Rusesabagina had been due on Friday but it was delayed without giving any reason.

Rusesabagina is accused of 13 charges including terrorism, financing and founding armed groups, murder, arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.

The Rwandan judiciary said on Twitter on Friday the court would now announce its verdict against Rusesabagina and his 20 co-accused on September 20.

According to Kitty Kurth, spokeswoman for Rusesabagina’s Hotel Rwanda Foundation, the 20 co-accused are also accused of terrorism and have “all pled guilty and incriminated him”.

Prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose bravery inspired the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.

The government of President Paul Kagame accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.

Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.

His family and supporters insist that the charges against him are fabricated and have campaigned globally for his release, saying that he was abducted overseas and has not been allowed to meet international lawyers.

Rusesabagina, who used his celebrity status following the 2004 film to denounce Kagame as a dictator, had been living in exile in Belgium and was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in Kigali.

The trial opened in February, but Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US green card holder, has boycotted proceedings since March, accusing the court of “unfairness and a lack of independence”.

Presiding judge Antoine Muhima ruled that the trial would continue.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies