The Rwanda appeals court Monday upheld Paul Rusesabagina’s 25-year sentence. In upholding the sentence, the court of appeals rejected the prosecutors’ demand for a life sentence.
Rusesabagina’s supporters and international observers, such as TrialWatch and Amnesty International, called Rusesabagina’s first trial a sham. The 2021 sentencing was a result of his involvement in the 2018-2019 Rwandan attacks. Courts blamed Rusesabagina’s party and its armed wing, the National Liberation Front. Yet international organizations point to Rusesabagina’s crime being political dissent.
Paul Rusesabagina was known for his role as a hero during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. As the owner of the Hotel des Mille Collines, Rusesabagina helped save Rwandans from the genocide perpetrators. His heroic acts led to the movie, Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina’s hero persona, however, ended when the genocide ended. Since Paul Kagame became president, Rusesabagina became critical of the government. Kagame’s government has not been lenient on dissenters. Freedom House categorized Rwanda as “not free” in 2020 based on civil liberties and political rights. In 2017, Kagame won reelection with almost 99 percent of the vote, allowing no support for the opposition. Rusesabagina’s claims of innocence in the 2018-2019 attacks were ignored by the court because of his vocal opposition to Kagame’s government.
While the court also heard appeals for others who had a role in the attacks, Rusesabagina’s sentence garnered attention because of his previous role as a hero. The United States Congress has called for Paul Rusesabagina’s release.