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Activists demand release of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Rusesabagina

Human rights activists and others have urged Rwandan authorities to release the man who inspired the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, saying his health was deteriorating after an appeals court upheld his sentence 25 years in prison for terrorist offenses

KAMPALA, Uganda — Human rights activists and others are urging Rwandan authorities to release the man who inspired the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, saying his health is deteriorating after an appeals court confirmed his sentence of 25 years in prison for terrorist offences.

Paul Rusesabagina, who holds Belgian nationality and American residency, is credited with sheltering a group of Tutsi during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He was found guilty in September of charges including membership in a terrorist group, murder and kidnapping.

Rusesabagina is a well-known critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the United States

Some activists who spoke at an online event in support of Rusesabagina on Wednesday said the United States could do more to free the 67-year-old Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. They also appealed to the Rwandan authorities for compassion.

“I ask President Kagame to extend the grace you have shown me and my family, Paul and his family now,” Don Cheadle said, calling on the Rwandan leader. “Please lead with mercy.”

Cheadle, who played Rusesabagina in the 2004 Hollywood film, said the former hotel manager had “more than given his flesh” after several months in detention.

Rusesabagina is credited with saving over 1,000 people by hosting them in the hotel he ran during the genocide, in which over 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu who tried to protect them were killed.

He left Rwanda in 1996.

The criminal case against Rusesabagina has drawn international attention due to his notoriety, the circumstances surrounding his 2020 arrest and his limited access to an independent legal team. Throughout his trial, Rusesabagina maintained he was not guilty and said he did not expect justice.

His sentencing comes more than a year after he disappeared during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs, accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change.

The armed group claimed part of the 2018 and 2019 attacks that killed nine people in southern Rwanda. Rusesabagina testified at trial that he helped form the armed group to help refugees, but said he never supported violence.

Rusesabagina’s family and supporters insist his arrest was in response to his criticism of Kagame over alleged rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial executions.

Terry George, who directed “Hotel Rwanda”, said his film had become “the center of a disinformation campaign” as Rusesabagina’s stature in the Rwandan diaspora grew with his criticism of Rwandan authorities.

β€œHe turned to me and thanked me for making the film,” George said of Kagame, recalling a screening of the film in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. “The film was universally received in Rwanda at the time.”

Rwandan officials have since dismissed Rusesabagina as a “manufactured” hero.

Kagame’s Rwanda “is one of the worst perpetrators of transnational repression in the world”, said Nicole Bibbins Sedaca of the group Freedom House. “We must hold authoritarian regimes to account when they use tools like transnational repression, when they capture political prisoners simply to target and silence their critics.”

Kate Gibson, a member of Rusesabagina’s legal team, said her client did not get a fair trial. She also accused members of Rusesabagina’s legal team in Rwanda on Wednesday of “being subjected to unthinkable indignities over and over again”. She gave no details.

A Rwandan appeals court on April 4 upheld Rusesabagina’s 25-year prison sentence, rejecting prosecutors’ efforts to jail him for life.

Rusesabagina’s health has deteriorated, according to her family.

“He’s sick. He’s sick,” Anaise Kanimba said of her father. “We probably think he had a stroke and we don’t have time. We don’t have time, and that is why we need your help, we need the help of the international community, we need the help of the world.

ABC News

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