Hotel Rwanda hero was not kidnapped before he was arrested, court rules

Paul Rusesabagina (Muhizi Oliver/AP)
Paul Rusesabagina (Muhizi Oliver/AP) (AP)
17:27pm, Wed 10 Mar 2021
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A court has ruled that the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a chartered flight from Dubai to Rwanda, where he was arrested and now faces terrorism charges.

The 66-year-old Paul Rusesabagina, once praised for saving hundreds of ethnic Tutsis from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide while a hotel manager, faces nine charges.

They include the formation of an irregular armed group, membership in a terrorist group, financing terrorism, as well as murder, abduction, and armed robbery as an act of terrorism.

A special chamber of Rwanda’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that Rusesabagina was tricked into coming back to Rwanda but not kidnapped and the country’s laws are silent on arrests under such circumstances.

The court ruled that authorities followed the law properly after Rusesabagina arrived in Rwanda.

It said the charges against him are serious and cannot be jettisoned.

Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda and is credited with saving more than 1,000 people by sheltering them at the hotel he managed during the genocide, stands before the judge (Muhizi Oliver/AP) (AP)

Rusesabagina disappeared in August during a visit to Dubai and was paraded in handcuffs days later in Rwanda.

A lawyer for Rusesabagina argued last week that his client should be freed because he had been kidnapped in a process that violated the law.

A pastor told the court on Friday that he worked with the Rwanda Investigation Bureau to trick Rusesabagina onto a private plane that he believed was going to neighbouring Burundi.

The pastor, Constantin Niyomwungere, alleged that Rusesabagina had acknowledged that rebels backed by his opposition platform had killed Rwandans.

“Myself, the pilot and cabin crew knew we were coming to (the Rwandan capital) Kigali.

“The only person who didn’t know where we were headed was Paul,” Mr Niyomwungere said.

Paul Rusesabagina speaks with lawyers (Muhizi Olivier/AP) (AP)

Rwanda’s government has alleged that Rusesabagina was going to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wednesday’s ruling means prosecutors can proceed with their case, although lawyers for Rusesabagina said they will appeal the decision in a higher court.

The case of Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US resident who is an outspoken critic of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame, has drawn international concern.

His family says Rusesabagina has no chance at a fair trial because of his outspoken criticism of Kagame and human rights abuses.

They also fear he might die from poor health behind bars.

Rusesabagina could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

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