A Rwandan 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 a criminal trial on 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 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 after Rusesabagina arrived in Rwanda. It said the charges against him are serious and can’t be jettisoned.
Rusesabagina disappeared in August after leaving his Texas residence for a trip to Dubai, only to be seen days later paraded in handcuffs in Rwanda.
An attorney 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. 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 [Rwandan capital] Kigali. The only person who didn’t know where we were headed was Paul,” Niyomwungere said.
Wednesday’s ruling means prosecutors can proceed with their case, although attorneys for Rusesabagina said they will appeal the decision in a higher court.
U.S. calls for transparency, fair process
The case of Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. resident, has drawn international concern though until recently, not from the U.S. administration.
While the Trump administration was silent on the case, last month the State Department under U.S. President Joe Biden called for a fair and transparent court process.
“The State Department has engaged the government of Rwanda at the highest levels, both here in Washington as well as in Kigali and it is something we will continue to do,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
Rusesabagina’s family says he has no chance at a fair trial because of his outspoken criticism of Rwandan president Paul Kagame and human rights abuses. They also fear he might die from poor health behind bars.
The Oscar-nominated 2004 film Hotel Rwanda starred Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina.
A year later, president George W. Bush awarded Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom.