Hotel Rwanda hero in court

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Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, faced 12 charges including terrorism in a Kigali court on Monday in a case shining a spotlight on opposition to President Paul Kagame.

Rusesabagina, who once called for armed resistance to government in a YouTube video, was accused of terrorism, complicity in murder and forming or joining an irregular armed group, among the charges.

The 66-year-old former hotel manager was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda” using his connections with the Hutu elite to protect Tutsis fleeing slaughter.

Brought to court handcuffed in a van inscribed “RIB” for Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Rusesabagina wore an anti-coronavirus mask and sat pensively during the hearing.

He did not immediately offer a plea but one of his government-appointed lawyers, David Rugaza, said Rusesabagina was on trial for exercising freedom of speech.

After the genocide, Rusesabagina acquired Belgian citizenship and became resident in the United States, becoming a strong critic of Kagame who he accused of stifling opposition.

“He obtained Belgian citizenship in 1999 and there is another key issue here where one might say Rwanda is trying a foreign citizen on freedom of expression he enjoyed while abroad,” Rugaza told the one-judge hearing.

Some in Rwanda, including Kagame, accuse Rusesabagina of exaggerating his heroism, which he denies.

Kagame has ruled Rwanda since the end of the genocide and won the last elections – in 2017 – with nearly 99% of the vote.

Kagame enjoyed widespread credit for restoring Rwanda to stability after the genocide and boosting economic growth. International rights groups and political opponents say his rule is increasingly tainted by repression.

It is still unclear how Rusesabagina came to be in Rwanda, although Kagame hinted in an interview earlier he may have been tricked into boarding a private jet.

Rwandan police said Rusesabagina was arrested on an international warrant. His family dispute that and say he was kidnapped in Dubai.