Panafrican News Agency

First appearance in court of hero of 'Hotel Rwanda' movie dominates headlines in Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - Rwandan media headlines were dominated this week by the the first appearance in court of the hero of 'Hotel Rwanda' movie, Paul Rusesabagina, for his pre-trial detention.

The private newspaper, 'Taarifa', wrote that Rusesabagina, 66, arrived at Nyarugenge high court in Kigali city in signature pink rose suit officially accorded to Rwanda’s prisoners.

Under the headline "Paul Rusesabagina Now In Pink Suit, Claims Isn’t Rwandan Citizen", the newspaper wrote that the suspect, who is on record for declaring war against the government in a YouTube video, is now battling charges of terrorism, complicity in murder, and forming or joining an armed group, among other charges.

The defendant is the leader of the opposition MRCD group which is said to have an armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FLN), that stages attacks on Rwanda. 

According to the newspaper, his name also featured recently in another ongoing terrorism case. The court had heard allegations that the FLN had received help from Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu because of his close friendship with Rusesabagina.

During one hearing session earlier this week, a member of the defence team, David Rugaza, submitted that Rwandan courts do not have the jurisdiction to try Rusesabagina arguing that he is a Belgian national.

He also holds a US green-card, left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and landed in Dubai at the end of August, his family said.

In another article, the English daily 'The New Times' quoted an interview with Voice of America where three guests were hosted to debate on the issue.

Panelists were US-based scholar Dr Jean-Pierre Karegeye, Ismaël Diallo, a Burkinabé human rights activist and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Herman Cohen. The programme was aired on 18 September.

During his contribution, Cohen commented on how Rusesabagina made a mistake by going from Dubai to Bujumbura, Burundi, Rwanda's neighbour, saying he should have known that the Rwandan government was looking for him. 

"So, it wasn’t very smart of him to do that. And also, as for the owner of the plane, the best client of this company is the government of Kigali. So, it is clear that the government in Kigali said: you must land in Kigali, then in Bujumbura. But these people must be sued. Because they violated all international aviation laws."

The former US official also said he does not agree that the government in Kigali had the right to do what they did despite the fact that every government goes after its opponents. 

The semi-private 'KT Press' wrote that the hearing kicked off with Rusesabagina being given an opportunity to state the reasons for his appeal and he said that he was not in good health.

Rusesabagina’s lawyers argue that the charges against their client are irrelevant, since Rusesabagina is not a Rwandan and did not commit crimes on Rwandan soil. One of his lawyer said the court had not commented (even though it did) on whether it had jurisdiction to hear the charges against Rusesabagina or not. 

'KT Press' wrote that Rusesabagina was given an opportunity to clarify his citizenship claims and he said that he moved to Belgium in 1996  and surrendered all his documents to the European country. 

He said that for three years he was stateless and was a United Nations orphan, until he was granted citizenship. 

Regarding obtaining Belgian citizenship, Rusesabagina was asked if he denounced his Rwandan nationality or if it was revoked and his lawyer said that since Rwanda did not allow double nationality at the time, he immediately lost his Rwandan nationality when he got citizenship in another country. 

The argument was previously dismissed by the court, which said that there was proof that he was Rwandan by birth, while prosecutors argued that even if he was a foreigner, he would be held accountable for crimes committed on Rwandan soil, according to the newspaper.

-0- PANA TWA/MA 26Sept2020