Rwandan court has handed a 25-year jail term to Paul Rusesabagina, the man who was portrayed in a film as a life-saving hero during the Rwandan genocide.
Rusesabagina, 67, was found guilty of supporting a rebel group behind deadly attacks in 2018 and 2019. His family alleged that he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda last year against his will.
Rusesabagina, a resident of the United States, was once hailed for the role he played during the genocide 27 years ago. He however turned to the State enemy due to his constant criticism of the government.
The role of Rusesabagina was played by Don Cheadle in an Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina was portrayed as a hotel manager who managed to protect more than 1,000 people who had sought shelter.
According to reports, about 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were slaughtered by extremists from the Hutu community within 100 days from April 1994.
Some of the survivors questioned the version of events as played out in the 2005 film and as Rusesabagina’s profile was elevated sequel to its release, his criticism of the post-genocide government and President Paul Kagame gained a wider audience.
Rights groups have accused the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front of harassing and arresting opponents. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture are “commonplace”, Human Rights Watch says.
Rusesabagina, who was living in exile, went on to lead an opposition coalition, which had an armed wing – the National Liberation Front (FLN).
In a 2018 video message, he called for regime change saying that “the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda”.
The FLN was accused of carrying out attacks in 2018 and 2019 in which the authorities said nine people were killed. In his defence, Rusesabagina said he never asked anyone to target civilians but admitted to sending the group money.
The prosecutors demanded a life sentence for Rusesabagina but he was given a 25-year, which “is just like a life sentence for a 67-year-old”, according to his daughter Anaïse Kanimba.
Rusesabagina was tried alongside twenty others, some of whom were members of the FLN who implicated him in their evidence.