Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan government critic who was hailed as a hero during the country’s genocide, did not appear for his trial after telling prison officials that he was quitting because he did not expect justice.
Rusesabagina, whose activities during the 1994 genocide inspired the hit film Hotel Rwanda, has been charged with nine offenses, including “terrorism,” for forming an armed group in recent years accused of carrying out deadly attacks within Rwanda.
The 66-year-old lived in exile overseas but was unexpectedly returned to Rwanda in late August when he was introduced to the media at the Rwanda Investigations Bureau headquarters in Kigali. Rusesabagina claims he was abducted after being duped into boarding a plane bound for Rwanda’s capital when he believed he was flying to neighboring Burundi.
In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye confessed that the government had paid for the flight.
Rusesabagina has confessed to forming the National Liberation Front (FLN) but has denied any involvement in its offenses. Rwandan officials blamed the FLN for a series of fatal attacks in 2018.
A letter from Nyarugenge Prison, where Rusesabagina is being held, was read out at Wednesday’s hearing, stating that he would no longer attend the trial.
“He told Nyarugenge jail that he would never appear before this court again, not just today, but for future hearings as well. According to the letter signed by Michel Kamugisha, the prison’s director, “he stated that he does not expect any justice from this court.”
The hearing will proceed, according to Presiding Judge Antoine Muhima.
“Rusesabagina declined to appear at this hearing. He has the right to do so, but failing to appear does not prevent the trial from proceeding,” Muhima told the AFP news agency.
When the court denied Rusesabagina’s request for six months to prepare his defense on March 12, he announced his intention to withdraw from the trial because “my fundamental rights to defend myself and to have a fair trial were not respected.”
Rusesabagina’s family is adamant that he has been denied access to over 5,000 pages of documents in his case file.
He is also being prosecuted alongside 20 other terrorist suspects, “all of whom pleaded guilty and incriminated him,” according to Kitty Kurth, a spokeswoman for Rusesabagina’s Hotel Rwanda Foundation.
“President [Paul] Kagame has publicly declared Paul [Rusesabagina] guilty of the charges, effectively removing his right to be presumed innocent.”
Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle in the Oscar-nominated 2004 film, is credited with sheltering hundreds of Rwandans inside a hotel he operated during the 1994 genocide, which killed 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.
However, in the years since Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex picture of the staunch government critic emerged, whose tirades against Kagame’s rule turned him into a state enemy.
Kagame has been in power since 1994, and critics accuse him of crushing opponents and governing through fear.
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