Paul Rusesabagina of the famous Hotel Rwanda film, who has been paraded in court in Rwanda to answer charges of terrorism and murder that he allegedly committed in attempt to overthrow President Paul Kagame’s government, argues that he is not a Rwandan citizen and therefore charges against him cannot be sustained.
Appearing in Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Friday September 25, 2020 where he was challenging his pre-trial detention, Rusesabigna through his Lawyer David Rugaza said that Rwandan courts had no jurisdiction to try him, since he is not a Rwandan citizen.
Rusesabagina’s lawyer argued that the charges against their client were therefore irrelevant, since Rusesabagina is not a Rwandan and did not commit crimes on Rwandan soil.
“We urge this court to confirm that the Kicukiro Primary Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, as it was based on illegal reasons,” he said.
Rugaza said that from 1996 to date Rusesabagina is not Rwandan, and had not been in Rwanda from 1996 to August 2020.
His lawyer submitted that Rwandan courts do not have the jurisdiction to try Rusesabagina arguing that he is a Belgian national. His family also says Rusesabigina holds a US green-card and left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and landed in Dubai at the end of August where he was siphoned to Rwanda.
“He got a Belgian citizenship in 1999 and therefore there is another key issue here where one might say that Rwanda is trying a foreign citizen on freedom of expression that he enjoyed while abroad,” his lawyer told court.
Rusesabagina was given an opportunity to clarify his citizenship claims and he said that he moved to Belgium in 1996 and surrendered all his documents to the European country. He said that for three years he was stateless and was a United Nations orphan, until he was granted citizenship.
Regarding obtaining Belgian citizenship, Rusesabagina was asked if he denounced his Rwandan nationality or if it was revoked and his lawyer said that since Rwanda did not allow double nationality at the time, he immediately lost his Rwandan nationality when he got citizenship in another country.
The argument was previously dismissed by court, which said that there was proof that he was Rwandan by birth, as he attested when he was read his profile.
Prosecutors further argued that even if he were a foreigner, he would be held accountable for crimes committed on Rwandan soil.
But his lawyer argued that pursuant to Article 11 of the 2012-2018 Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that the convicted person must have committed the crime in Rwanda, did not exist when the alleged crimes were committed in 2018.
Meanwhile, the European Union parliament has jumped into the fray and is attempting to frustrate the controversial trial of Rusesabagina in Rwanda.
“We the undersigned are extremely worried about the arrest of Belgian citizen and human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda. We are calling for immediate action by the European Union to ensure that the legality of the arrest and trial of Mr. Rusesabagina are investigated and that his rights as European citizen are upheld at all stages of this process,” the Brussels based parliament said in a statement.
During the Friday bail appeal hearing, however, Rusesabagina for the first time admitted to being part of an opposition group that formed a rebel wing that claimed a spate of attacks in Rwanda which left civilians dead.
Rusesabagina is the leader of the opposition MRCD group which is said to have an armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which staged attacks on Rwanda. Court has also heard that the FLN rebel group had received help from Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu because of his close friendship with Rusesabagina.
During hearing Rusesabagina said that although FLN was created as a military wing, he was not responsible for the attacks it conducted against Rwanda.
“We formed the FLN as an armed wing but not as a terrorist group as the prosecution claimed. We formed it in order to draw the government to the attention of the plight of Rwandan refugees all over the world. We never created it to commit terrorism,” said the Hollywood celebrity cum political activist.
“I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” he argued in defense, adding, “The agreement we signed to form MRCD (Mouvement Rwandaise pour le Changement Democratique) as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called FLN. But my work was under the MRCD political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy. The FLN armed wing was led by General Wilson Irategeka.”
Rusesabagina is charged with 13 counts related to terrorism, arson, kidnap and recruiting of child soldiers, crimes linked to his position as chair of MRCD, a coalition of exiled opposition groups formed in July 2017 with a base in Minembwe in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
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