A Rwandan court on Monday charged Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, with terrorism, complicity in murder and forming an armed rebel group.
Rusesabagina pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges and said he denied the accusations when he was questioned by Rwandan investigators.
Rusesabagina, 66, asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to hospital three times in the week that he has been held in Rwanda.
“I request that I am given bail and I assure the court that I will not flee from justice,” Rusesabagina said. The court said it will rule on his bail application on Thursday.
Rusesabagina, credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during the 1994 genocide, appeared in handcuffs in Kagarama Court in the capital for a pre-trial hearing, in which the prosecution requested court permission to continue detaining him until investigations are completed.
According to the local press, my father was today for the first time brought before a court for a parody of justice, played in the absence of the lawyers chosen by the family. We have no hope that he can receive fair justice in Rwanda. #FreeRusesabagina @freethehero pic.twitter.com/1zTrZ3aId8
Rusesabagina was represented by Rwandan lawyers David Rugaza and Emeline Nyembo, who his family outside Rwanda have criticized as state-imposed representation.
Rwandan authorities accuse him of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks inside Rwanda.
They point to a video posted online in 2018 in which he expresses support for the National Liberation Front and says, “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.”
Rusesabagina in the past has denied funding rebel groups and said he was being targeted over his criticism of Kagame’s government and alleged rights abuses.
It remains a mystery how Rusesabagina, who has lived in Texas in recent years, disappeared from a trip to Dubai late last month and appeared in custody in a country his family says he would never return to voluntarily.
Amnesty calls for transparent proceedings
Neither his lawyers nor the prosecution explained the circumstances under which Rusesabagina arrived in Kigali. The Rwandan court said the suspect was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting the earlier police version that he was arrested through “international co-operation.”
When Rwandan President Paul Kagame spoke on national broadcasting about the case, he indicated that Rusesabagina may have been tricked into boarding a private plane in Dubai that took him to Rwanda.
Amnesty International called on the Rwandan authorities to guarantee Rusesabagina his right to a fair trial.
“The lack of transparency around the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina and reports that he has been denied access to the lawyer hired by his family are red flags that cannot be ignored as the authorities prepare for his trial,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa.
Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba told The Associated Press that the family was not even aware he was to appear to court Monday as the state-appointed lawyers didn’t inform them. She said they learned of the court hearing through the media.
“This is a travesty of justice,” Kanimba said of the hearing. Speaking on the phone from Belgium, she said her father was the victim of an abduction, disappearance and extraordinary rendition from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to Kigali, Rwanda.
The international group Human Rights Watch last week said that Rusesabagina had been “forcibly disappeared.”
“The fact that Rwanda did not pursue Rusesabagina through lawful extradition proceedings suggests the authorities do not believe their evidence or fair trial guarantees would stand up to scrutiny before an independent tribunal, and so opted to circumvent the rule of law,” said Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
Rusesabagina has been a vocal critic of the Kagame government and has not lived in Rwanda since 1996. He holds Belgian citizenship and is a resident of the U.S. In 2005, then-president George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rusesabagina’s family has appointed a team of international lawyers to represent him. One of the lawyers said they are planning to fly to Rwanda later this week.
“We hope that the Rwanda government will accept that we have visas in order for us to defend Mr. Rusesabigna,” said Belgian lawyer Vincent Lurquin, in an interview with AP in Brussels. “But I have to tell you that the talks between the Belgian and the Rwandan authorities on that front have not progressed much.”
Lurquin said that neither Rusesabagina’s lawyers nor his family has been able to speak to him privately.
“If we are alone together, he will be able to explain maybe how he ended up in Rwanda flying from Dubai,” said Lurquin. “It is not the first [time] that something like this happens with Belgian citizens, there are precedents. Every time Belgium said this was not something they could allow and those people were sent back.”
Lurquin said that the international community must press Rwanda’s government to respect international law regarding legal extradition proceedings.