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Prosecutors appeal after 'Hotel Rwanda' hero jailed

By AFP
Rwanda Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide, was convicted on terror charges by a high court in Kigali.  By Simon Wohlfahrt (AFP/File)
OCT 20, 2021 LISTEN
Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide, was convicted on terror charges by a high court in Kigali. By Simon Wohlfahrt (AFP/File)

Rwandan prosecutors said Wednesday they have filed an appeal against a court ruling that sentenced "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges.

The National Public Prosecution Authority is appealing the judgements against Rusesabagina, a staunch critic of President Paul Kagame, and 20 co-defendants, spokesman Faustin Nkusi told AFP.

Rusesabagina, 67, and his fellow accused were convicted and sentenced on September 20 after a trial that rights groups and his supporters had branded a sham.

It was not clear whether prosecutors were appealing the sentence itself or the wider ruling.

But chief prosecutor Aimable Havugiyaremye had told reporters at the time that the prosecution was "not happy with the verdict because all the accused got lesser sentences than what the prosecutors had prescribed".

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of life in prison for Rusesabagina, the former Kigali hotel manager who was accused of backing a rebel group blamed for a spate of attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.

Rusesabagina has been credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the country's 1994 genocide, and his actions inspired the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda".

He later used his fame to denounce rebel leader turned president Kagame as a dictator, and left Rwanda in 1996, living in Belgium and then the United States.

He has been behind bars since his arrest in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in Kigali.

His family say Rusesabagina was kidnapped and have rejected the nine charges against him as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views against Kagame.

'A death sentence'

Neither he nor his lawyers were in court for September's verdict in September, which saw his co-defendants receive sentences ranging between three and 20 years.

The United States and Belgium both voiced concern that Rusesabagina had been denied a fair trial.

His daughter Carine Kanimba said after the ruling that his advanced age made the punishment "equivalent to a death sentence".

"We fear that my father will be killed in prison," she said.

Kagame's government accused Rusesabagina of belonging to the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.

He 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.

Kagame had dismissed criticism of the case, saying that Rusesabagina had been in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost "because of his actions".

The Court of Appeal will decide at a later date when to hear the prosecution's appeal, a court official told AFP.

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