BOSTON — A Rwandan man convicted of hiding his involvement in the country’s 1994 genocide in an attempt to win asylum in the U.S. was sentenced Monday to more than eight years in prison.
Jean Leonard Teganya participated in at least seven murders and five rapes during the genocide, in which Hutu extremists slaughtered Tutsis and Hutus who tried to protect them, prosecutors said.
He was found guilty in April of immigration fraud and perjury after authorities say he lied on his asylum application to portray himself as a victim rather than a perpetrator of the massacre.
Teganya denies playing a role in the genocide, in which some 800,000 people were slaughtered over a 100-day period.
Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV said he struggled with his sentencing decision, noting the enormity of the tragedy and the allegations against Teganya, but also that the man was not charged in his courtroom of the rapes and murders.
“The basic question is: Do I sentence him as a liar or do I sentence him as a murder, or a rapist, or genocide participant?” Saylor asked.
Saylor said he ultimately believed the appropriate prison term was within the sentencing guidelines for the crimes with which Teganya was convicted.
Teganya declined to speak during the hearing, and his lawyer declined to comment afterward.
As a medical student in 1994, authorities said, Teganya helped soldiers find Tutsis who were hiding at a hospital in Butare so they could be killed or raped, and participated in some of those killings and rapes himself.
He fled Rwanda after the genocide ended and went to Canada, where he was denied refugee status because of his role in the massacre, prosecutors said. He was arrested by U.S. border agents in 2014 when he illegally crossed into Maine and claimed asylum, authorities say.
On his asylum application, authorities said, he concealed that he had been a member of the Hutu-dominated political party, the MRND, and falsely claimed he had not persecuted any Tutsis.
Teganya took the stand during his trial and told jurors that he never committed any acts of violence and that he fears for his life if he returns to Rwanda because of his father’s crimes during the genocide.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Garland urged the judge to give Teganya 20 years in prison, saying he not only lied on his asylum application, but also continued to lie in court, painting his victims as liars and dressing “himself in the garb of the persecuted rather than the persecutor.”
“These are the most significant, most corrosive, most morally culpable lies possible,” Garland said. “They deserve the most serious penalty.”
Teganya’s public defender, Scott Lauer, described Teganya in court documents as a religious father of two who has led a “quiet and unassuming life” over the past 25 years.
In seeking about five years behind bars, Lauer noted that Teganya was charged only with lying, not with any crimes during the genocide. Teganya will certainly be returned to Rwanda after he finishes his sentence to face further prosecution, Lauer said.
“It is not the place of this court to transform itself into a tribunal to punish that conduct,” Lauer said.