Rwanda’s Court of Appeal on Monday upheld a 25-year prison sentence against ailing “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, who was convicted last year on terrorism charges, rejecting a prosecution appeal to increase the penalty to life.
The fiercely outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, who has been in custody for almost 600 days, was convicted last year after a trial his family and supporters branded a sham that was plagued with irregularities.
“Since he is a first-time offender, the court finds that his sentence should not be increased, because the 25 years he was given is in accordance with the weight of his crimes, and the court maintains his sentence,” said judge Francois Regis Rukundakuvuga.
The court was also ruling Monday on appeals against sentences meted out to Rusesabagina’s 20 co-defendants, who were jailed for between three and 20 years.
All the accused were convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group blamed for a spate of deadly attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
The 67-year-old Rusesabagina has boycotted all the court proceedings and was not in court for Monday’s ruling.
He is credited with saving more than 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered.
But, in the years after Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex image emerged of a staunch government critic whose tirades against Kagame led him to be treated as an enemy of the state.