'Hotel Rwanda' film hero Paul Rusesabagina seeks bail

Tuesday September 15 2020

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Hotel Rwanda film hero Paul Rusesabagina in a Kigali court with his lawyers on September 14, 2020. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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A Kigali court will on Thursday make a ruling on bail in the terrorism trial of Paul Rusesabagina, the figure behind the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda.

He is charged with 13 counts including terrorism, financing terrorism, inciting violence, recruiting child soldiers, kidnap, and arson.

Mr Rusesabagina spent the entire day in court on Monday in a bail hearing, where his lawyers argued that his medical condition warrants that he be released provisionally.

“He is sick and requires regular medical attention. He should be granted bail with restricted movement as a free man. He has not been convicted and is innocent until proven guilty as provided by Rwandan laws,” David Rugaza, his lawyer said.

Mr Rugaza added "what prosecution considers as serious incriminating evidence against Rusesabagina is simply two documents they found on his computer. These are unsigned documents and there is no evidence that he wrote them."

Mr Rusesabagina also defended himself against the 13 charges he faces and distanced himself from activities of the eastern DR Congo-based rebel group Force de Liberation Nationale (FLN) that claimed previous attacks against Rwanda.

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“I am not the leader of FLN. They are the ones that should be held accountable for the acts they did, not me,” he said.

"Like my lawyers have said, I am sick and in need of constant medical care. In the past two weeks, I have been to the hospital three times. I request for bail and I guarantee the court that I will not flee from justice,” he said.

Medical care

Mr Rusesabagina, 66, is a cancer survivor and has a cardiovascular medical condition.

But prosecutors argued against granting him bail, noting that they have strong evidence that links him to the formation of terror groups as well as financing and fundraising for them.

They also said that there is no need to offer him bail on medical grounds since detainees are offered the medical treatment they need.

“He can access medical care without a problem, and he is on record saying it himself that all his rights are respected during his time in detention. We have mechanisms and institutions through which the sick are catered for adequately while in detention,” Oscar Butera, the lead prosecutor told the court.

"We have strong evidence showing his involvement in terror activities against Rwanda. All the evidence we gathered against Rusesabagina was obtained legally, including what we gathered from our Belgian counterparts, which was through a legally procured search warrant."

Bail ruling

The presiding judge, Dorothy Yankurije, adjourned the pre-trial to September 17, where a ruling will be made on bail.

The trial started at 9am and lasted for about seven hours, with only a break of about an hour.

His family has insisted that Mr Rusesabagina is in court without the lawyers of his own choosing.

“As yet, Paul has only had contact with lawyers assigned to him by the Rwandan authorities. He had no access to independent advice from his own lawyers. Paul’s family reiterates his right to consult with lawyers of his own choosing, particularly given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his arrest," Kitty Kurth, the family spokesperson said on Monday.

Mr Rusesabagina chose his lawyer from a list of local advocates that was provided by the Rwandan Bar Association on a pro-bono basis, after he said he did not have the financial means to hire a lawyer.

The family had drawn up a list of six lawyers to represent him, including one Rwandan, two Americans, an Australian, Belgian and Canadian.

By law, foreign advocates are required to seek authorisation from the Rwanda Bar Association to represent a client in Rwanda.

But by press time, the Bar had not received any request from a foreign lawyer intending to represent Mr Rusesabagina.

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