Man hailed as hero in 1994 genocide film says he will not appear in court, argues terrorism-related charges against him are fabricated.
Paul Rusesabagina, a critic of the Rwandan government who was hailed as a hero during a genocide in the country, did not appear for his trial after informing the prison authorities that he was quitting the process because he did not not expecting justice to be served.
Rusesabagina, whose actions during the bloodbath inspired by the hit movie Hotel Rwanda in 1994, has been charged with nine offenses, including “terrorism” for having created in recent years an armed group accused of organizing deadly attacks in Rwanda.
The 66-year-old was living in exile abroad but was mysteriously returned to Rwanda at the end of August when he was presented to the media at the headquarters of the Office of Rwanda Investigations in Kigali. Rusesabagina said he was kidnapped after being tricked into boarding a plane to Rwanda’s capital when he thought he was going to neighboring Burundi.
Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye admitted in a interview with Al Jazeera last month the government paid for the theft.
Rusesabagina admitted to helping to form the National Liberation Front (FLN), but denied any role in his crimes. Rwandan authorities accused the FLN of a series of deadly attacks in 2018.
At Wednesday’s hearing, a letter from Nyarugenge prison where Rusesabagina is being held was read, saying that he would no longer attend the trial.
“He told Nyarugenge prison that he would never appear before this tribunal again, not just today but even for future hearings. He said he does not expect justice from this court, ”according to the letter, written by Michel Kamugisha, the director of the prison.
Presiding Judge Antoine Muhima has ruled that the trial will continue.
“Rusesabagina chose not to attend this hearing. He has the right to do so, but choosing not to appear does not prevent the trial from continuing, ”Muhima said, according to the AFP news agency.
In his last appearance on March 12, when the court ruled against Rusesabagina’s request for six months to prepare his defense, he said he was quitting the trial because “my fundamental rights to defend myself and to to have a fair trial were not respected ”.
Rusesabagina’s family insist that he did not have access to more than 5,000 pages of documents in his file.
He is also on trial alongside 20 other terrorism accused, “who all pleaded guilty and incriminated him,” according to Kitty Kurth, spokesperson for the Hotel Rwanda Foundation in Rusesabagina.
“President [Paul] Kagame has publicly stated that Paul [Rusesabagina] is guilty of the charges, effectively nullifying his right to the presumption of innocence. “
Rusesabagina, whose character was played by Don Cheadle in the 2004 Oscar nominated film, is credited with sheltering hundreds of Rwandans in a hotel he managed during the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 mostly Hutus Tutsis but also moderates were massacred.
But in the years since Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex picture emerged of the staunch critic of the government, whose tirades against Kagame’s rule made him an enemy of the state.
Kagame has been in power since 1994 and is accused by critics of crushing opponents and ruling out of fear.