In Rwanda, opponent Paul Rusesabagina sentenced to 25 years in prison for terrorism

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Paul Rusesabagina during a hearing at his trial, in Kigali, on February 17, 2021.

Unsurprisingly, Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Monday, September 20, by the Kigali court. On trial since February, the former director of the Hôtel des Mille Collines, who became a fierce opponent of President Paul Kagame, was found guilty of supporting a group “Terrorist” who has ” attacked people in their homes, in their cars ”, in the words of Judge Béatrice Mukamurenzi.

If he confirmed his participation in the creation of the National Liberation Forces (FLN), the armed wing of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), responsible for attacks that killed nine people in 2018 and 2019 in the southwest. of Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina rejected any involvement in these crimes.

Since March, the 67-year-old opponent, who appeared with 17 other defendants, boycotted court hearings with his lawyers, denouncing a trial ” Politics “ made possible by his ” removal “ by the Rwandan authorities.

According to the indictment drafted by the attorney general of the Kigali court, a 301-page document that The World Africa consulted, Paul Rusesabagina was charged with nine counts in connection with acts of terrorism. In the investigation, carried out by Rwanda in collaboration with the Belgian judicial authorities, he appears as the founder and “One of the main financiers of the FLN”, that he recognizes having “Supported up to 20,000 euros”.

Read also In Rwanda, the former director of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in front of the judges

The prosecution relied on the statements of other FLN members who were arrested, conversations or text messages, but also on a search carried out at the Belgian home of Paul Rusesabagina, on October 21, 2019, during which two phones, a computer and several documents were seized.

At the end of 2018, in a video posted on the Internet, Paul Rusesabagina declared: “Since July, the FLN has launched a military struggle to liberate the Rwandan people. It is imperative that in 2019 we accelerate the liberation struggle, the Rwandan people can no longer endure the cruelty and all kinds of ill-treatment inflicted on us by the regime. The time has come for us to use all possible means to bring about change. As all political means have been tried and failed, it is time to try our last resort. ”

Hollywood hero

However, contradictory testimonies followed one another during the trial on the involvement of the former manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines. A spokesperson for the FLN declared that Paul Rusesabagina had “Not given orders to FLN combatants”. Another co-accused himself claimed that they came from him.

“Paul Rusesabagina is accused of being the leader of a group that wanted to fight the Rwandan government, Paul Kagame said in an interview with World, in May. He started with the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda [un groupe composé d’anciens Hutu ayant participé au génocide et installé dans l’est de la République démocratique du Congo] then within the FLN… Journalists and NGOs support him by repeating that if he is in prison, it is because he criticized Kagame. But there is clear evidence against him. “

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Paul Kagame: “I leave the choice of words to President Macron. Apologies cannot come at the request ”

Paul Rusesabagina was made famous by the film Rwanda Hotel, released in 2004, which shows how the director of the Hôtel des Mille Collines saved more than 1,200 Tutsi in his establishment during the genocide which left between 800,000 and 1 million dead between April and July 1994. But the reality that inspired this Hollywood movie seems more ambiguous. On the screen, the Hutu appears as a “Just”, a hero who takes risks to save lives, in particular by bribing Interahamwe militiamen. – perpetrators of numerous massacres – so that they spare the refugees present in his hotel. But this version has since been contested.

“Paul Rusesabagina, a hero? “, got carried away, in a survey carried out by The world in 2015, Bernard Makuza, former prime minister who took refuge in the hotel during the genocide: “The soldiers and militiamen came to drink shots with him, he demanded that we pay for the rooms. Is it heroic to demand cash, checks or IOUs from refugees whose families are being massacred outside? ”

A vast network of support

After Rwanda, which he left in 1996 because he considered that the country offered less and less room for the opposition, Paul Rusesabagina lived between the United States and Belgium, country of which he acquired the nationality. Long a taxi driver, he lectured around the world on the genocide, the Great Lakes region and Rwanda, of which he criticized the authoritarian regime of Paul Kagame, president since 2000. Close to the opposition movements in exile, Paul Rusesabagina founded the MRCD in 2017.

“The agreement we signed to form the MRCD as a political platform included the formation of this armed wing [le FLN], he admitted at the start of his trial. But my role was to work for this political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy. ” The FLN has already claimed responsibility for several attacks in the Nyungwe region, bordering Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He notably instigated an attack on passenger buses, leaving two dead and eight wounded, according to the government in Kigali.

Read also the archive (2019): In Rwanda, the slightly too beautiful story of the Hôtel des Mille Collines

The judicial investigation showed that the movement benefited from a vast network of financial support in Africa (Comoros, Madagascar, DRC…), but also in Europe. According to the daily Release, Belgium would seek to identify these supports and would now conduct its own investigation for terrorist financing. In France, contacts between Paul Rusesabagina and several members of associations of the Rwandan diaspora have also been established.

“Ruse” or “kidnapping”?

The arrest of Paul Rusesabagina in August 2020 took place under controversial conditions. The Rwandan government has acknowledged having “Ease” Paul Rusesabagina’s trip to Kigali “By paying a person who has worked with him for a long time” so that he boarded a private jet in Dubai that was supposed to take him to Burundi. But the plane eventually landed in Kigali, where the opponent was arrested by the authorities..

“It was not a kidnapping but a police ruse, in which one of his friends participated, which led to the arrest of Mr. Rusesabagina, defends a source close to the Rwandan authorities. These are also ruses which made it possible to arrest the terrorist Carlos, the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and dozens of drug traffickers. ” In a motion adopted in February, the European Parliament referred to “A kidnapping” and called for an international investigation into this arrest.

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Rwanda is in the crosshairs of several human rights NGOs. “The Rwandan Patriotic Front [FPR] in power continues to target those who are perceived to be a threat to the government, Human Rights Watch says in its latest report. Several prominent critics have been arrested or threatened, and authorities routinely fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents. “

” The verdict [du procès de mon père] was decided by Paul Kagame. I’m not surprised at all, we expected exactly that ”, lamented Carine Kanimba, daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, whose phone would have been infected by the Pegasus software after an investigation carried out by various international media including The world, in collaboration with Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International.

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