A Rwandan court has sentenced Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed as a hero in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, to 25 years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group during a controversial trial that his supporters have called a sham.
Mr Rusesabagina has acknowledged membership of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a dissident group opposed to the African nation’s long-serving president Paul Kagame, but denied responsibility for deadly attacks carried out by its armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FLN).
The 67-year-old was portrayed by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, which tells the story of how he successfully sheltered more than a thousand Tutsi refugees in his hotel while militias slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people belonging to the ethnic minority group during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Its accuracy has since been questioned.
Judges on the case found Mr Rusesabagina guilty of membership of an organisation that had carried out terror attacks alongside 20 other defendants who were tried with him.
FLN spokesperson Callixte Nsabimana, who was among those on trial, told the court that Mr Rusesabagina was not a member of the armed group, but judges insisted that the MRCD and FLN are indistinguishable, referring to them as MRCD-FLN during the trial.
Prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Mr Rusesabagina on nine charges including terrorism, arson, hostage-taking and forming an armed rebel group, all of which he denies.
The dissident has not personally appeared in court for months, having refused to take part in the trial which began in February — six months after he arrived in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on a flight from Dubai.
Mr Rusesabagina’s supporters say he was kidnapped, while the Rwandan government has suggested that he was tricked into boarding the plane. Human Rights Watch said at the time that his arrest amounted to an enforced disappearance and a violation of international law.
President Kagame, who has denied accusations of abuse, has been president of Rwanda since 2000.
His party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, has ruled the country in the years since the Rwandan genocide during which more than 800,000 Tutsi victims as well as some moderate Hutu and Twa were killed by Hutu extremists. They are credited with ending the genocide.
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