KIGALI – Rwanda's prosecution on Monday said it intends to hold a joint trial of Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” together with 16 prisoners alleged to be rebel fighters.
Rusesabagina, 66, is a founder of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a coalition of opposition groups, which has an armed wing known as the National Liberation Front. The government accuses the rebel group of killing Rwandans in the country's north.
In court last month, Rusesabagina a dmitted his ties to the rebels but said the group was never meant to kill Rwandans.
Rwandan authorities said the rebel fighters to stand trial with Rusesabagina include two former spokesmen, now in detention in Kigali.
“Prosecution intends to submit a joint indictment of these 16 defendants together with Paul Rusesabagina. A full list of 16 fighters will be provided,” Prosecutor General Aimable Havugiyaremye told a press conference in the capital, Kigali.
Rusesabagina has been charged with 13 offenses that also include financing terrorism, complicity in murder, recruiting child soldiers, and forming a rebel group. He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if he is convicted. He has been denied bail pending the trial, the date of which has not yet been set.
Rusesabagina’s family and supporters have described the upcoming trial as a sham, calling on the Rwandan leadership to first explain the circumstances under which Rusesabagina was brought to the country. His family says that he was pressured to say that he had ties with the rebels.
“Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen who was kidnapped and brought to Rwanda illegally. Before anything else happens in his trial, he should be allowed to talk to his independent lawyers that have been hired for him, not the lawyers the government has enforced on him,” Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba told The Associated Press on Monday.
Rusesabagina cannot speak freely while in Rwandan custody, said Kanimba, speaking on the phone from Belgium.
President Paul Kagame has indicated that Rusesabagina may have been tricked into boarding a private plane in Dubai that took him to Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch has asserted that Rusesabagina had been “forcibly disappeared,” saying that the lack of lawful extradition proceedings suggests that Rwandan authorities don’t believe their evidence would stand up to independent scrutiny.
Rusesabagina has not lived in Rwanda since 1996 and has U.S. permanent residence as well as Belgian citizenship and has been a prominent critic of the Kagame government.
Rusesabagina had asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to a hospital three times since he first appeared in handcuffs in Rwanda on Aug. 31. He looked frail during his court appearances.
Rusesabagina is reported to have saved more than 1,000 lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. For his efforts, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
But Rusesabagina has faced growing criticism from Rwandan authorities in the years since he began alleging that human rights are being committed by Kagame’s government.