KIGALI (Reuters) - Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotelier portrayed as a hero in a film about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, told his terrorism trial on Friday he had backed opposition groups, but denied any involvement in violence.
Rusesabagina - who was played by Don Cheadle in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” - was detained in August and charged in Kigali with crimes including terrorism, financing terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder.
The 66-year-old, who has attended past hearings in a suit, appeared in court for the first time in a prison uniform of pink shorts and shirt, with his head shaved.
He enjoyed worldwide acclaim after the Oscar-nominated film portrayed him using his connections with the Hutu elite to protect Tutsis fleeing slaughter.
He went on to become a prominent critic of the government that came in after the genocide, accusing President Paul Kagame of stifling political opposition.
He left the country for Belgium, then the United States and, in a YouTube video posted in December 2018, called for armed rebellion.
On Friday he told the court he had been one of the rotating presidents of the Mouvement Rwandais pour le Changement Démocratique (MRCD). The Rwandan government has accused the MRCD of launching attacks, but he said it was “a platform of many political parties” including his own PDR-Ihumure, all pushing for change.
“I was never involved in the leadership of FLN rebels,” he said, referring to an armed organisation that he said was directed by another member of the umbrella group. “When we created FLN, it was not a terror group,” Rusesabagina said.
He asked the judge to release him on bail, saying he was ill with a history of thrombosis, cancer and blood pressure-related ailments. The court adjourned, saying it would reconvene on Oct. 2 to consider the bail request.
Rwandan officials abruptly announced Rusesabagina’s detention on Aug. 31 and paraded him before the press in handcuffs.
His family said he had been kidnapped and brought to Rwanda. But Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen, told the New York Times he had been tricked into boarding a private jet he believed was bound for Burundi.
Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Heavens
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