The family of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who inspired the acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda, has accused the Rwandese government of reducing the food and water rations for their jailed relative in order to force him to plead guilty to terror-related crimes.
Rusesabagina is best-known for saving over a thousand lives during the Rwandan genocide, as depicted in the 2004 film that starred Don Cheadle. He disappeared Aug. 27, 2020, while on a flight to Burundi to address church leaders there.
The 66-year-old said he was kidnapped after being tricked into getting onto a plane to Kigali when he thought he was going to Burundi. Four days later, he appeared in the custody of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau which charged him with being “the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits.”
Rusesabagina’s family believes Paul’s arrest violates international law.
President Paul Kagame, in an interview with the French news agency France 24, dismissed the accusation. “I don’t see why people make a lot of noise. He is in a court of law. He is not being hidden somewhere.”
“What’s wrong with tricking a criminal you are looking for?” he added. “When you get him, where do you put him? If it is in a court of law, I think that’s okay.”
Whether the trial was fair, Kagame responded: “I want to see a fair trial myself. Why do you think being fair belongs to Europe or U.S. or anybody and not for us?”
Kagame’s government accuses the hotelier of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group which is blamed for a series of gun, grenade, and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
“As a leader, sponsor and supporter of FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda,” said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema.
“Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters.”
In the years since he fled Rwanda, Mr. Rusesabagina has been an outspoken opponent of Rwanda’s ruling party, which he holds responsible for numerous human rights violations. In 2018, he co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a coalition of opposition groups in exile.
Mr. Rusesabagina says the MRCD uses diplomacy to represent the millions of Rwandan refugees and exiles. But he has publicly expressed “unreserved support” for the FLN, encouraging the use of any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda.
Since March, Rusesabagina has refused to attend his own trial in protest at the court’s refusal to grant a postponement for him to prepare his defense.
He has maintained his innocence.