Paul Rusesabagina, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero who became a fierce government critic, was found guilty on Monday on terror charges after what his supporters say was a politically motivated show trial.
He was convicted of backing a rebel group blamed for a deadly gun, grenade, and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
“He founded a terrorist organisation that attacked Rwanda, he financially contributed to terrorist activities,” Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said at the end of a seven-month trial.
Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the 67-year-old former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.
Neither he nor his lawyers were in court for the verdict, although the 20 other defendants in the case attended.
Rusesabagina, who used his fame to denounce Rwandan leader Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
His family says Rusesabagina was kidnapped and had rejected the nine charges against him as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views.
Earlier this month, Kagame had dismissed criticism of the case, saying Rusesabagina was in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost “because of his actions”.
The trial began in February but the Belgian citizen and US green card holder boycotted it starting in March, accusing the court of “unfairness and a lack of independence”.
The United States — which awarded Rusesabagina its Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 — along with the European Parliament and Belgium were among those to raise concerns about his transfer to Rwanda and the fairness of his trial.