The man who saved more than 1,200 lives during the country’s 1994 genocide has been accused by the president of supporting violent opposition groups. The former hotelier said he has not given them any financial aid.

Supporters of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed in Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, say the Rwandan authorities have denied him access to a lawyer, a week after he was paraded in handcuffs and accused of “terrorism”.

In a statement on Saturday, the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation said Rusesabagina, a United States permanent resident and Belgian citizen, has had no consular visits.

The foundation also rejected the Rwandan government’s claim that the outspoken government critic had talked to his sons about a potential visit as “not true”.

“Paul’s wife has called the jail and has not been allowed to talk to him,” it added.

The family believes he was “kidnapped” during a visit to Dubai and that he would never knowingly have boarded a plane for Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. He has lived outside the East African nation since 1996.

Rusesabagina was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as a hotel manager during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Rwandan authorities have not responded to questions about how and where Rusesabagina was apprehended, and have not publicly shared any international arrest warrant. They have referred to “international cooperation” but given no details. 

Hotel Rwanda film hero Paul Rusesabagina held on terror charges

“There is a deliberate effort to sanitise and present Rusesabagina as a victim,” the state-run Rwandan newspaper The New Times said in an editorial on Saturday.

The editorial rejected allegations he was arrested because of his criticism of the government.

Rwandan authorities have granted what they called an “exclusive” interview with Rusesabagina to a Kenyan newspaper, The East African, in which he said he had been treated with “kindness” but did not discuss the accusations against him or how he was apprehended.

It is not clear when Rusesabagina will appear in court. Rwandan law says a suspect can be in provisional detention for 15 days, renewable for up to 90 days.

The Rwandan government has said it issued an arrest warrant for Rusesabagina to answer charges of serious crimes including “terrorism”, arson, kidnap and murder perpetrated against unarmed civilians.

Police called him the suspected “founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits including the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change” (MRDC).

Rwanda points to a video posted online in 2018 in which Rusesabagina says “it is imperative that in 2019 we speed up the liberation struggle of the Rwandan people … the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed”.

Paul Rusesabagina after his arrest in Kigali

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday accused the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, of being a terrorist leader.

“Rusesabagina heads a group of terrorists that have killed Rwandans. He will have to pay for these crimes,” said Kagame during a broadcast on national television. “Rusesabagina has the blood of Rwandans on his hands.”

Rusesabagina has been accused of supporting rebel groups in the country and was arrested last week. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) said he will face charges of terrorism, financing terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder. He has denied the charges.

Authorities said he supported several groups, including a group of political parties in exile opposed to the Rwandan government known as the MRCD and its armed group, the National Liberation Front (NLF). Rusesabagina has been a vocal Kagame critic, but he has denied financially supporting rebel groups.

Hotel Rwanda figure Paul Rusesabagina faces terrorism charges

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said the man who inspired a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide returned to the country of his own accord before being arrested for murder and terrorism.

Paul Rusesabagina’s family allege the political exile was kidnapped in Dubai and taken to Rwanda, where he was paraded in handcuffs this week.

The opposition figure has been accused of supporting rebels in Rwanda.

His work to save lives was depicted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.

As a hotel manager, the Hutu helped save hundreds of Tutsis from the genocide, in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

They were killed by Hutu extremists, who were forced from power by President Kagame and his Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) after 100 days of killing.

Today the Rwandan authorities say the role of Mr Rusesabagina, 66, was exaggerated. However, he has received several human rights awards – including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

How did Kagame explain Rusesabagina’s return?

Speaking on national TV, the president said: “Let me eliminate the word ‘kidnap’ because that was not the case.

“Rusesabagina will attest to that himself. There was no kidnap, there was no any wrongdoing in the process of his getting here.”

He did not suggest what might have prompted Mr Rusesabagina to return, only saying: “He got here on the basis of what he believed he wanted to do and he found himself here.”

But his niece and adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba, told AFP news agency that he had been in Dubai for meetings before suddenly turning up in handcuffs in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

“I don’t know how he got to Rwanda,” she said. “However he would never have done that by his own free will, because he knows that in Rwanda they want him dead.”

Why was he arrested now?

Mr Rusesabagina’s name featured recently in a terrorism case in Rwanda. The court heard allegations that the National Liberation Front rebel group had received help from Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu because of his close friendship with Mr Rusesabagina.

Actor Don Cheadle (L) and Paul Rusesabagina arrive at the "Hotel Rwanda" Premiere during the 55th annual Berlinale International Film Festival on February 11, 2005 in Berlin, Germany.
Don Cheadle (L) played Mr Rusesabagina (R) in the film

Mr Lungu’s spokesman denied the allegation in a BBC interview.

In 2011, Mr Rusesabagina was accused of funding subversion in Rwanda, but no charges were brought.

At the time, he denied any wrongdoing and said there was a smear campaign against him.

President Kagame’s critics accuse him of not tolerating any opposition. Several opposition leaders have been jailed and others fled into exile. He says he is trying to prevent a return of ethnic hatred.

What is Hotel Rwanda about?

The 2004 film Hotel Rwanda told the story of how Mr Rusesabagina, a middle-class Hutu married to a Tutsi, used his influence – and bribes – to convince military officials to secure a safe escape for an estimated 1,200 people who sought shelter at the Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali.

Don Cheadle played Mr Rusesabagina in the film.

Rwandan genocide survivors’ group Ibuka has in the past said that he exaggerated his own role in helping hotel refugees escape the 100-day slaughter.

In 2007, Mr Rusesabagina said a UN-backed war crimes court should put some members of the RPF on trial for their alleged role in the genocide.

“I’m just a normal person. But I’ve always defended human rights,” he said at the time. “I’m trying to be the voice of millions of Rwandese who have no-one to speak out for the

Forced return?

Rusesabagina had lived outside of the country since 1996 as a Belgian citizen and US resident, but returned to Rwanda last week. He suggested that he came on his own accord.

Kagame did not believe that he came on his own volition. “What if someone told you that he brought himself — even if he may not have intended it? You will be surprised how he got here. He was not kidnapped or hoodwinked. His coming to Rwanda has more to do with himself than anybody else,” Kagame said during Sunday’s broadcast.

The US government said it expects the Rwandan government to provide “humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law and provide a fair and transparent legal process” for Rusesabagina.

The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation said the former hotelier has had no consular visits and rejected the government’s claim that it had talked to his children about a potential visit. His family said they believed he was “kidnapped” during a trip to Dubai and would have never knowingly boarded a plane to Rwanda’s capital Kigali. Kagame has denied that charge.

It is not clear when Rusesabagina will appear in court. The law states that a suspect can be held in detention for 15 days, which is renewable for up to 90 days.

Rusesabagina’s actions during the 1994 Rwandan genocide were widely acclaimed throughout the world. He was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award. 

Actor Don Cheadle, who portrayed Rusesabagina in the film Hotel Rwanda, told AP, “it is my sincere hope that Paul is being treated humanely and fairly, and that a transparent and just legal process designed to reveal the veracity of these charges is advanced in a timely manner.”

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