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Court to rule on prosecution appeal against 'Hotel Rwanda' hero

@New Vision

Rwanda's Court of Appeal was to rule Monday on a prosecution appeal to increase a prison sentence against ailing "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina on terrorism charges.

The fiercely outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame was ordered to serve 25 years behind bars after a trial his family and supporters branded a sham that was plagued with irregularities.

State prosecutors had appealed the original sentence, saying the punishment against the former Kigali hotel manager was too lenient and should be increased to life.

The original trial judge had ruled the penalty could be reduced to 25 years because it was his first conviction.

The prosecution also appealed the sentences meted out to Rusesabagina's 20 co-defendants, who were jailed for between three and 20 years.

All the accused were convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group blamed for a spate of deadly attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.

The 67-year-old Rusesabagina has boycotted the appeal proceedings, with his family saying he would not participate "in a staged appeal of a political prisoner".

Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

But, in the years after Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex image emerged of a staunch government critic whose tirades against Kagame led him to be treated as an enemy of the state.

Last month the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion concluding that Rusesabagina had been "abducted" when he was arrested in August 2020 and that his detention was "arbitrary", calling for his immediate unconditional release.

Rusesabagina's family -- who have already warned he could die behind bars -- in early March said his health was at a "crisis" point and that he needed treatment immediately.

"(He) appears to have suffered partial facial paralysis which is impairing his speech, following his complaints of ongoing weakness and severe pain in his arm and jaw," the family said in a statement.

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