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Famous Rwandan activist’s arrest raises concerns

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Paul Rusesabagin

Paul Rusesabagina, a prominent critic of the Rwandan government, mysteriously surfaced in Rwanda where he has been arrested for terrorism-related offenses.

Paul Rusesabagina, on whom the movie Hotel Rwanda is based, has been detained in Kigali for terrorism, arson, and murder charges. The Belgian citizen, who is also a permanent resident of the United States, mysteriously surfaced in Rwanda, paraded before the media in handcuffs, when he was supposed to be on a trip to Dubai, leading to speculation that the Rwandan government had executed an illegal rendition. President Paul Kagame has denied that he was kidnapped but was rather lured into the country in a “flawless” operation.

Rusesabagina, who was a hotel manager in Kigali, is credited with saving the lives of 1,268 people who were sheltering at his hotel at the height of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. For his bravery, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been a vocal critic of President Kagame whose government has been trying to apprehend him for the best part of a decade, appealing to both American and Belgian authorities in vain.

Rusesabagina’s charges are linked to his leadership of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition coalition, whose armed wing has been accused of carrying out terror attacks in Rwanda, notably for events in the summer of 2018 when three people were killed and some property was looted and burned. His family says he doesn’t support violence and is worried that he is at immediate and serious risk of torture or inhuman, degrading treatment. The current government is suspected of enforcing the disappearances and orchestrating the deaths of several critics and journalists. In fact, Rusesabagina had written in his autobiography that Kagame was typical of many African dictators.

The family-appointed lawyers for Rusesabagina’s have asked the United Nations to intervene in the case. They say their lawyers haven’t been allowed to meet him and neither has he been given consular access. The Rwandan Investigation Bureau, which has arrested and is holding him, has said he has chosen two lawyers. One of them gave an interview saying Rusesabagina is doing well and had met with a doctor. He denied any knowledge about the family-appointed lawyers. The family has termed these lawyers “fake”. But Kagame has assured that he will be given a fair trial.

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