Belgian lawyer for “Hotel Rwanda” hero expelled from Rwanda

Belgian Vincent Lurquin. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

KIGALI, Rwanda – The Belgian lawyer of Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of “Hotel Rwanda” turned critic of the government, has been expelled from Rwanda for what authorities have called a violation of immigration law.

Saturday’s eviction came just a day after the verdict was delayed in a high-profile trial in Rusesabagina, which the government accuses of supporting terrorism.

Rwandan authorities have said that lawyer Vincent Lurquin, who arrived in the country on Monday on a tourist visa, appeared before a court in Kigali on Friday “to represent Paul Rusesabagina wearing a lawyer uniform”.

Regis Gatarayiha, director general of Rwanda’s Directorate-General for Immigration and Emigration, said the visitor visa allowed Lurquin “to visit the country for 30 days but not to work”.

“But then he ended up working,” he told AFP.

Lurquin was kicked out on a plane around 8:40 p.m. (6:40 p.m. GMT) on Saturday and “will never be allowed to return,” Gatarayiha said.

Lurquin is Rusesabagina’s lawyer in Belgium and had not defended him during the February-July trial.

Prosecutors have called for a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives in the 1994 genocide, and whose bravery inspired the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda”.

The government of President Paul Kagame accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group accused of attacks inside Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that left nine dead.

Rusesabagina, 67, denied any involvement in the attacks but was one of the founders of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is considered the armed wing.

His family and supporters insist the charges against him are fabricated and campaigned around the world for his release.

Delayed verdict

Rusesabagina, who used his fame after the 2004 film to denounce President Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed in Kigali instead.

The trial opened in February, but Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and holder of the American green card, boycotted the procedure since March, accusing the court of “injustice and lack of independence.”

In Kigali on Friday, Lurquin said that Rusesabagina had not been able to choose his lawyer for a year, saying it was “a fundamental right”.

He also denounced that he had been denied access to the prison where Rusesabagina is being held pending the verdict, which was to be announced on Friday.

But the court announced on Friday that it would deliver its verdict against Rusesabagina and his 20 co-defendants on September 20, without giving any reason for the delay.

The President of the Bar of Rwanda Julien Kavaruganda denounced on Twitter that Lurquin “appeared in court as a lawyer, in a lawyer gown, while he is not a member” of the bar and “is not authorized to practice in Rwanda ”.

Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo responded by stating that “Lurquin’s crooked behavior is a flagrant violation of the rules of legal practice in Rwanda”.

/ MUF

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Bernice Dyer

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