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Lawyer for 'Hotel Rwanda' hero deported for visa violation

By Reuters | August 25th 2021
Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda's 1994 genocide, is escorted in handcuffs from the courtroom in Kigali, Rwanda September 25, 2020. [Reuters]

A Belgian lawyer for the man whose story inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda", who is being tried on terrorism charges, has been deported for working without a permit, the head of Rwanda's immigration service said on Monday.

Paul Rusesabagina, the ex-hotelier portrayed as a hero in the 2004 film about Rwanda's 1994 genocide, is accused of nine terrorism-related charges, including forming and funding an armed rebel group.

Vincent Lurquin was deported on Saturday after appearing in court as one of Rusesabagina's lawyers the previous day despite lacking legal permission to do so, officials said.

"He did some work, but he was not authorized to work," Regis Gatarayiha, director general at the Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, told Reuters. Lurquin was in the country on a visitor's visa, Gatarayiha said.

"He is a lawyer of Rusesabagina in a case in Belgium ... [but] to be able to assist him in courts of Rwanda - he is not a lawyer who is accredited by the Rwanda Bar Association," said Gatarayiha.

Lurquin should have first gotten accreditation from the Rwanda Bar Association and then obtained a permit from Rwanda immigration, which he did not do, Gatarayiha said.

"Any claims that he illegally or clandestinely entered under a tourist visa are unequivocally false," Rusesabagina's legal team said in a statement.

Lawyer Vincent Lurquin. [Reuters]

Lurquin had been representing Rusesabagina in a Belgium-based investigation and needed to speak to his client, according to the statement.

"With the assistance and knowledge of the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he arrived in Kigali, and told the Rwanda immigration authorities that he was a lawyer, coming into Rwanda to visit a detained client. He was given a visa by the Rwandan immigration officials," the statement said.

The official record of Friday's trial did not include Lurquin appearing on behalf of Rusesabagina, who was represented only by a Rwandan lawyer, the statement said.

All Rusesabagina's non-Rwandan lawyers have in the past said that they were denied permits to defend him in Rwandan courts.

The Rwanda Bar Association said Lurquin was not a member of the organization and was not allowed to practice in the country.

Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo responded to the Association's statement on Twitter, saying Lurquin's behaviour was "crooked" and a "desperate" attempt to distract from the facts of the trial.

Prosecutors have requested a life sentence for Rusesabagina, whose family says he is in poor health and being mistreated in prison.

The court is scheduled to issue its verdict on Sept. 20.

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