Hotel Rwanda ‘hero’ admits backing rebels but denies violence

Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina - (Copyright AP)
12:28pm, Fri 25 Sep 2020
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The man portrayed as a hero in the film Hotel Rwanda has admitted in court that he backed a rebel group but denied he supported any violence or killings.

Paul Rusesabagina, in a pink prison uniform for his bail hearing on Friday, told the court in Kigali, the capital, that he helped to form the National Liberation Front to help Rwandan refugees but said he never supported violence.

The judge has postponed ruling on his application for bail until October 2.

Rwanda Hotel Rwanda Arrest - (Copyright AP)

Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident who has been a critic of President Paul Kagame, is charged with 13 offences that also include financing terrorism, complicity in murder, recruiting child soldiers and forming a rebel group.

If convicted, he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison.

It is unclear when his trial will begin.

Rusesabagina, 66, has lived outside Rwanda since 1996 but appeared in the east African country in handcuffs on August 31.

Earlier this month, he described how he disappeared while visiting Dubai and then turned up days later in Rwanda, a country his family said he would never return to voluntarily.

Speaking to The New York Times with Rwandan authorities present, he said he thought the private plane he boarded in Dubai was going to Bujumbura, Burundi, where he had planned to speak to churches at a pastor’s invitation.

Instead, Rusesabagina stepped out of the plane and was surrounded by Rwandan soldiers, the report said.

He said he was then tied up, could not see anything and did not know where he was.

The Rwandan court has said he was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting the earlier police version that he was arrested through “international co-operation”.

Mr Kagame earlier this month indicated Rusesabagina may have been tricked into boarding the plane, adding; “It was actually flawless.”

I assure the court that I will not flee from justice

Human Rights Watch has asserted Rusesabagina was “forcibly disappeared”, saying the lack of lawful extradition proceedings suggests Rwandan authorities do not believe their evidence would stand up to independent scrutiny.

Rusesabagina had asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to a hospital three times since his arrest.

He looked frail during his first court appearance.

“I assure the court that I will not flee from justice,” Rusesabagina said in his earlier bail application, which was denied.

His court appearance on Friday was to appeal that rejection.

The denial of bail further alarmed his family, which along with some human rights and legal groups has expressed concern that his arrest is the latest example of Rwanda targeting critics.

“We have no hope that he can be given fair justice in Rwanda and ask for his immediate release,” daughter Carine Kanimba said on social media earlier this month.

Rusesabagina also distanced himself from the activities of a rebel movement that is the armed wing of his opposition political platform, saying he was not the movement’s leader and the group’s members should be held responsible.

The armed wing has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

For his efforts, he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But he has faced criticism from Rwandan authorities in the years since he began speaking out against alleged human rights abuses by Mr Kagame’s government.

Government supporters reject Rusesabagina’s criticism, saying Mr Kagame’s leadership supports democracy and economic growth.

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