KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwandan prosecutors on Thursday requested a life sentence for the man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” as he faces terrorism charges, while his family asserts that he faces mistreatment and an unfair trial.
Paul Rusesabagina, once praised for saving hundreds of ethnic Tutsis from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide as a hotel manager, faces charges related to attacks by an armed group inside Rwanda in 2018 and 2019. The nine charges include the formation of an irregular armed group, membership in a terrorist group and financing terrorism. Prosecutors seek to link him to activities that killed at least nine people.
Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. resident, has denied the charges, arguing his case is politically motivated in response to his criticism of Rwanda’s longtime President Paul Kagame.
Rusesabagina alleges that he was abducted last year while visiting Dubai and taken to Rwanda, where he was charged. But a court ruled that he was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a chartered flight. Rwanda’s government has asserted that Rusesabagina was going to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in neighboring Congo.
“My father Paul Rusesabagina is a political prisoner. He is accused of invented charges, and zero evidence against him has been presented in the Rwandan kangaroo court,” daughter Carina Kanimba tweeted after the prosecution sought the life sentence.
The family also has said Rusesabagina was being denied access to food and water, but Rwanda’s prison authority has denied it.
The case has received global attention. This month the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice said it had filed a formal submission in the U.S. recommending sanctions against Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye and the head of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Col. Jeannot Ruhunga, for their role in Rusesabagina’s detention.
Rusesabagina stopped appearing in court in March, saying he doesn’t expect justice after his request to postpone the trial to prepare his defense was rejected. His attorney, Felix Rudakemwa, has asserted that Rusesabagina’s legal papers were confiscated by prison authorities.