Paul Rusesabagina, a one time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the nation’s 1994 genocide was found guilty of being part of a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks and sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Rwandan court.
Rusesabagina boycotted Monday’s verdict after declaring he did not expect justice in a trial he called a “sham”.
According to reports, the case has had a high profile since Rusesabagina, 67, was arrested in August 2020 after what he described as a kidnapping from Dubai by Rwandan authorities.
He was accused of supporting an armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The group had claimed some responsibility for attacks in 2018 and 2019 in the south of the country in which nine Rwandans died.
“He founded a terrorist organisation that attacked Rwanda, he financially contributed to terrorist activities,” Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of Rusesabagina.
Rwandan prosecutors had sought a life sentence the former hotelier, credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide. But Mukamurenzi said the term “should be reduced to 25 years” as it was his first conviction.
Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina – based in the United States – emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Brussels, Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba said her father should be released and allowed to come home.
“This verdict means nothing for us. Our father was kidnapped,” Kanimba said. “He was dragged across international borders in violation of international law.”
“My father knows that his rights were violated … that’s why he decided to step out of the trial, and this is all political,” she said adding that her father was “a political prisoner”. “The charges are completely invented.”
The daughter said her family was “very worried” about Resesabagina’s health and were afraid he would die in prison.
“Every Friday we have a five minute call with my father … he doesn’t sound at ease. He sounds like the prison authorities are pressuring him, keeping him from saying what he wants to say and keeping us from really saying what we want to tell him. And the call is really short. My father emotionally he’s strong, he’s very strong individual emotionally. Physically though we are very, very worried.”
Author Michela Wrong, who recently published a book on Rwanda, told Al Jazeera the verdict was clearly a message to the opposition.