05.09.2021 Rwanda

Rwanda leader defends terrorism trial of genocide hero

By Ivan Rush Mugisha
The detention and trial of Paul Rusesabagina, a polarising
LISTEN SEP 5, 2021
The detention and trial of Paul Rusesabagina, a polarising "Hotel Rwanda" hero, has raised global alarm,. By Simon Wohlfahrt (AFP/File)

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday dismissed widespread criticism of the terrorism trial of the polarising "Hotel Rwanda" hero hailed for saving over 1,000 lives during the country's 1994 genocide.

He said Paul Rusesabagina, now a prominent Kagame critic whose detention and trial has raised global alarm, was in the dock not because of his fame but because people had died as a result of his later actions.

Rusesabagina, 67, faces a verdict on September 20 on charges of being a terrorist mastermind who financed a rebel group behind a string of deadly attacks in the east African country.

He and his family have long rejected the allegations and say the former hotelier whose actions during the genocide inspired the 2004 Hollywood film is the victim of a politically-motivated show trial.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Rusesabagina, who they accuse of supporting the rebel National Liberation Front (FLN), a group blamed for attacks inside Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.

"He is here being tried for that. Nothing to do with the film. Nothing to do with celebrity status," Kagame said in a nationally televised interview.

"It is about the lives of Rwandans that were lost because of his actions and because of the organisations that he belonged to or led," he said.

"What he is being tried for and accused of is having a hand in these armed groups and terrorists... This man deserves to be fairly tried in the court of law and is going to be tried as fairly as that can be."

Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.

'Love to hate Rwanda'

"Hotel Rwanda" told how the former manager of Kigali's Hotel des Mille Collines saved more than 1,200 people who sheltered there during the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 were slaughtered, most of them ethnic Tutsis.

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became an outspoken Kagame critic and lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.

He was arrested in August last year when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed in Kigali instead, a move his supporters describe as a kidnapping.

He faces nine charges, including terrorism, but has boycotted proceedings since March, accusing the court of "unfairness and a lack of independence".

Kagame has been in power since 1994 and is accused by critics of crushing opponents and ruling through fear.

In Sunday's interview, he rejected allegations Kigali had used the Israeli malware Pegagus after an international media probe revealed more than 3,500 Rwandans -- including Rusesabagina's daughter -- were potential targets of the software.

"So on the question of whether we spy with this tool, the answer is no, and a big no in capital letters," he said.

"But like any other country in this world, Rwanda does collect intelligence and there are so many ways of doing that," he added.

Among the numbers that appeared on the leaked records revealed by the media investigation in July was a cell phone belonging to Carine Kanimba, who has been leading the campaign to free her father.

"The media is awash with so many things about Rwanda that are not true. The media, especially Western media, love to hate Rwanda," said Kagame.

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