A Kigali court said on Thursday it will issue its verdict next month against detained “Hotel Rwanda” activist turned government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.
Prosecutors last month sought a sentence of life in prison against Rusesabagina, who inspired the Hollywood film over his actions during the 1994 genocide that saved the lives of about 1,000 people.
Judge Antoine Muhima said the verdict in the trial against Rusesabagina and 20 other defendants, which opened in February, would be delivered on August 20.
Rusesabagina was arrested in August when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed in Kigali instead, a move his supporters describe as a kidnapping. The 67-year-old ethnic Hutu faces nine charges, including terrorism, but has boycotted the trial since March, accusing the court of “unfairness and lack of independence”.
The judge defended the conduct of the trial, saying: “Whoever wanted to speak was given the time. No one was denied their right to speak.”
Rusesabagina, the former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines, was portrayed by Don Cheadle in the 2004 film that told how he sheltered people during the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
He subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. He has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.
Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has 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.
Seeking a life term, prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema said last month that Rusesabagina “encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts”.
During the trial, his co-defendants gave conflicting testimony over the level of Rusesabagina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters. The announcement of the verdict date came just days afer a media investigation claimed that Rusesabagina’s daughter was spied on using Pegasus malware developed by Israeli company NSO.
Carine Kanimba, a US-Belgian dual national, has played a key role in efforts to free Rusesabagina and has accused the authorities of torturing him and depriving him of his rights.
“Countries that hold fair trials and prosecute strong cases don’t resort to tapping attorney client conversations or seizing attorney-client documents,” Rusesabagina’s US-based lawyer Peter Choharis said in a statement issued by the Paul Rusesabagina Foundation on Tuesday.