Rights groups in Africa have condemned the Rwandan High Court’s 25-year prison sentence of Paul Rusesabagina, who made a name for himself in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda. The court on Monday (20/9) found Rusesabagina and 20 other suspects guilty of terrorism. Rusesabagina has denied the allegations, and critics say his arrest and trial do not meet international standards for justice.
Bahima Macumi fled to Kenya more than 20 years ago after the Rwandan civil war, but followed the Rusesabagina conference carefully.
He said Rusesabagina clearly did not get a fair trial. He added that this shows the Rwandan government does not want to be corrected, because if that were to happen, the government would at least listen to the person who saved more than 1,000 people. He said if people who saved more than 1,000 people were called terrorists, what would they call people who saved no one.
To the world at large, Rusesabagina is a hero for protecting vulnerable Tutsi and Hutu citizens at the Kigali hotel he ran during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
To the Rwandan government, he is a threat, a staunch critic of President Paul Kagame, who is suspected of supporting militia groups seeking to overthrow the Rwandan government.
Human rights defenders condemned the sentence handed down to him.
According to Amnesty International, Monday’s court ruling calls into question the fairness of the Rwandan justice system in important and sensitive cases.
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, said it found numerous violations of fair trial. These injustices included his unlawful surrender to Rwanda, his enforced disappearance at the outset of the case and Rusesabagina from the outset not being able to choose his own lawyer. Everything that happened during this pretrial period had an impact on the fairness of the trial itself.
Rusesabagina has 30 days to appeal her sentence, but rights groups doubt the judge can make an impartial decision in the case.
Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch regretted that this case has become a symbolic case in Rwanda that really highlights the lack of independence in the judiciary. He said it was difficult for his organization to say an appeal should be made or there would be an appeal because that would imply a level of confidence in the justice system currently in place in Rwanda.
Rusesabagina said he was tricked into going to Rwanda in August 2020. He was flying from Dubai he believes was bound for Burundi, but his flight landed in Kigali, where he was immediately arrested.
He was tried along with 20 others in February. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday the lack of an acquittal in the Rusesabagina case raises questions about a fair decision. Rwandan prosecutors insisted the trial was fair. [my/ka]