KIGALI: Rwandan prosecutors said on Wednesday (Oct 20) 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.
‘ALREADY A LIFE SENTENCE’
Neither he nor his lawyers were in court for September’s verdict, 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.
“Twenty-five years is already a life sentence,” his daughter Carine Kanimba told AFP after the prosecution announcement.
“In appealing and asking for more the prosecution is just revealing how political this trial is and always was.”
The Court of Appeal will decide at a later date when to hear the prosecution’s case, a court official told AFP.
Kagame’s government accused Rusesabagina of belonging to the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for gun, grenade and arson 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”.
Kagame has ruled at the head of a Tutsi-dominated government since his forces ended the mass killings that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis.
But he has often come under fire for rights abuses and a crackdown on freedom of speech, critics and the opposition.
Last week police announced the arrest of several people including opposition party members and the owner of a popular YouTube channel for “spreading rumours” intended to undermine the government.
“The Rwandan government’s latest crackdown underscores that it is unwilling to tolerate debate and criticism,” Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, calling on Rwanda’s international partners to press for the release of those detained.
“These blatantly arbitrary and politically motivated arrests are intended to further discourage people from speaking out against government policy or abuse.”