Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a humanitarian in the controversial Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” appeared Monday in court for his first appearance on terror charges.
Rusesabagina, 66, appeared before a judge at Kagarama Primary Court in in Kicukiro district.
He faces 13 charges, including terrorism, forming an armed organization and recruiting people into armed group, issuance of instructions in the act of terrorism, complicity to murhe faces der, and arson among others.
Clad in a brown suit and cream shirt, Rusesabagina stood between his lawyers, as he heard his case.
He declined to enter a guilty or not guilty plea when asked, saying while he admitted committing some of the alleged charges during his interrogation he “would respond to each of them when the trial opens in substance.”
He said all her answers to the accusations were well documented in his file before court and for now he would not add anything to his written submissions.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau announced the arrest of Rusesabagina on Aug.31, on suspicion of being a founder, leader, sponsor or member of extremist terror outfits including the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) and PDR-Ihumure, “operating out of various places in the region and abroad.”
Prosecutors say Rusesabagina was behind serious crimes against unarmed, innocent Rwandan civilians in the south-western districts of Nyaruguru in June 2018 and in Nyungwe, Nyamagabe district in December the same year.
They told court that during the attacks in south western Rwanda, the terror outfit National Liberation Front (FLN) based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo burnt at least five vehicles, adding that it had photographic evidence to back up witness accounts.
But Rusesabagina’s legal team dismissed the evidence as “not incriminating” their client.
Earlier in the day during the opening of Monday’s pre-trial hearing, defense lawyers questioned the court’s competence to try their client, arguing that Rusesabagina was not a Rwandan resident and he was not in the country when the alleged crimes were committed.
But after a short adjournment court pronounced that it had the competence to go ahead with the pre-trial hearing because the court is located in the area where the suspect was arrested.
The defense lawyers also said there were “discrepancies” in the charges, telling court that Rusesabagina was not responsible for crimes committed by parties which had partnered with his own party, PDR-Ihumure.
But prosecution objected to this, saying the suspect cannot be separated from the crimes by “terror groups” he worked with.
The defense lawyers demanded for immediate release of their client on grounds that he is sick.
However, prosecution told court to remand the Rusesabagina for 30 days as investigations into his alleged crimes continue.
The court adjourned hearing to Sep. 17, when it will pronounce its ruling on the bail application.
Rusesabagina gained fame after the 2004 Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.
In the film, he is portrayed as a brave man who did his best to save the threatened Tutsi who had sought refuge in the hotel during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
He claims to have rescued 1,200 Tutsi who had sought refuge in the hotel, using his influence as its manager to bribe and convince military officials to secure a safe escape.
But survivors at the hotel say Rusesabagina did not hide or save Tutsi from the genocide.