A lenient High Court handed down a much lesser sentence against Paul Rusesabagina, the founder and financier of the MRCD-FLN terror group, despite overwhelming evidence proving his guilt.
The same lenient prison sentence was upheld unchanged by the Court of Appeal.
After the first trial, on September 20, 2021, the High Court’s Special Chamber for International Crimes and Cross-Border Crimes sentenced Rusesabagina to 25 years in prison.
Rusesabagina had been charged with 13 counts, including creating or joining an illegal armed group, terrorism, engaging in terrorism for political purposes, issuing instructions in the act of terrorism , membership in a terrorist organization, conspiracy and incitement to terrorism, complicity in the crimes of murder, arson, theft and others.
Prosecutors had requested the maximum sentence, life in prison, which is provided by law for all of these cases.
When the High Court bench deliberated on the charges following a marathon trial, the man who celebrated the murder of innocent villagers in southwestern Rwanda received a very lenient sentence.
Rusesabagina’s twenty co-defendants, including MRCD-FLN rebel group spokesperson Nsabimana Callixte alias Major Sankara, were also convicted on terrorism-related charges. Sankara for his part obtained 20 years.
However, by the time the sentence was handed down, Rusesabagina had arrogantly withdrawn from the trial – a tactic to divert attention from the overwhelming evidence – to the process itself.
Undeterred, the High Court bench did its job. The prosecution appealed to the Court of Appeal, protesting against the very negligible sentence imposed on Rusesabagina. All of the defendants except Rusesabagina also appealed.
The Court of Appeal rendered its decision yesterday, April 4. Rusesabagina’s sentence was upheld, while Sankara’s was reduced from 20 years to 15 years.
Where does Rusesabagina’s lenient sentence come from? Is it based on law? How come the High Court considered Rusesabagina on the side when he rejected his legitimacy?
In delivering the verdict, the High Court bench said it was considering Rusesabagina’s warrant because it had admitted some of the main charges such as financing terrorism. Rusesabagina had also expressed remorse for some of the crimes.
Rusesabagina admitted sending up to $300,000 to the FLN. In addition, he said he provided the rebels with 20,000 euros, in addition to regular installments. Rusesabagina also admitted to organizing fundraising meetings to raise money for his terror group.
There was a YouTube video in which Rusesabagina takes responsibility for the FLN attacks, adding that the operations were planned to kill civilians in order to force the government to negotiate. The video has since been deleted by its supporters, who are cleaning the internet of such traces.
There were exchanges of messages between Rusesabagina and his military commander, Lieutenant General Wilson Irategeka, on October 30, 2018 and on other dates, as well as with the former Prime Minister in exile Faustin Twagiramungu, where they discussed field operations.
In a message, he told Twagiramungu that he would not be available as he was busy mobilizing resources for “my boys” (abahungu banjye).
According to another message, Lieutenant General Irategeka says to Rusesabagina in what appears to be an expression of displeasure; “Twe turi gushaka kohereza abahinzi mu murima wowe ukohereza amafaranga aho tutazi koko, urashaka gucamo ibice abahinzi ukoresheje amafaranga? (We plan to send farmers to the plantations, but you are sending money to unknown recipients, do you want to cause dissension among the farmers using the money?)
In some messages, Rusesabagina and his politicians and soldiers use terms such as “abahinzi” (farmers), “amasuka” (hoes) and “imbuto” (seeds).
In court documents, Rusesabagina explained during interrogation that the code words referring to abahinzi were rebel troops, amasuka for guns and imbuto for bullets.
The court also had evidence of Rusesabagina’s wife, Uwiragiye Thacienne, sending money to Major Sankara who was based in the Indian islands of Comoros. She also sent money to various other countries for mobilization.
When presented with all this evidence, Rusesabagina admitted that these were indeed efforts to maintain the rebels’ war effort, so the government had no choice but to to negotiate.
With all this multitude of evidence over his head, Rusesabagina is smart enough to have felt he had no chance of convincing the High Court judges otherwise. Strategy? Change the narrative of the case, so that the evidence is not discussed.
Rusesabagina had friends to help him do that on the outside, including the Clooney Foundation for Justice. Yesterday, the Foundation released its report on the trial as it followed the proceedings.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, the author of the report which oversaw the trial for the Foundation, wrote: “This report is not about the guilt or innocence of Paul Rusesabagina, but about whether his trial was fair.”
For Rusesabagina’s friends, proof of the murders committed by his rebels is not the issue we should be discussing, but rather, is he eating a Spanish omelette or taking imported coffee, as a demonstration that he is happy and can therefore be judged.
For them, the rebel attacks that killed a 13-year-old girl and another 16-year-old boy, also leaving many lives in suspense, cannot justify his trial. But rather, the court should consider whether he had enough time during the call with his wife.
There was also an attempt to raise concerns about the number of meals Rusesabagina was getting or if he was getting bottled water.
While handing down the verdict, the High Court went the extra mile, which it did not have to, but is required by law, to seek evidence from both sides which assists the accused. The court did just that, figure out what would save Rusesabagina from going to jail for the rest of her life.
Although I have to accept the verdict since it is a court decision, I disagree with it. Rusesabagina should have been sentenced to the ultimate penalty.