Hotel Rwanda ‘Hero’ Refuses Trial, Star US Witness Takes Stand

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was charged on september 14, 2020, with terrorism and other serious crimes in his first court appearance in Kigali.  AFP / STRINGER

 

 

Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the hit movie “Hotel Rwanda,” refused Wednesday to participate in his trial, as an American citizen testified that he had financed rebel activities against his government.

Rusesabagina, whose actions during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide inspired the movie, has been charged with nine offences, including terrorism for starting an armed group in recent years that is accused of staging deadly attacks within Rwanda.

The 66-year-old, who had been living in exile in Belgium, was arrested in January, after being tricked into getting onto a plane to Kigali when he thought he was going to Burundi.

Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye admitted in an interview with Al-Jazeera last month that the government had paid for the flight.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a letter from Nyarugenge Prison where Rusesabagina is being held was read out, saying that he would “never again appear before this court, not just today but even for future hearings.”

“He said that he does not expect any justice from this court,” according to the letter, written by prison director Michel Kamugisha.

Presiding judge Antoine Muhima ruled the trial would continue.

The prosecution’s star witness, US citizen Michelle Martin, a social work professor who worked with Rusesabagina’s foundation a decade ago, gave testimony for three hours.

She said she had been privy to email correspondence “about financing rebel activities” and accused Rusesabagina of “genocide denial”.

Martin revealed that once she discovered Rusesabagina was “engaging in activities that appeared to be illegal, I turned everything over to US law enforcement.”

She revealed she had acted as an informant in a 2012 investigation against him in the US. She also said she had previously held a contract with the Rwandan government which required her to register in the US as a foreign agent, admitting this could “impact my credibility”.

Her contracts, available on the US Department of Justice website, showed she was being paid by the government to research Rwanda’s post-genocide “conflict-generated diaspora”.

– ‘A paid spy’ –
Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba told AFP that Martin’s testimony would never have stood in a fair trial due to her “conflict of interest”.

Meanwhile Kitty Kurth, spokeswoman for the Hotel Rwanda Foundation, said that Martin had in the past pushed Rusesabagina to join the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — a group run by Rwandan Hutu rebels.

“She was making the request as a paid spy of the government of Rwanda,” she said.

Rusesabagina’s family insist his rights have been trampled and he is not being afforded a fair trial, as he has been denied access to attorneys of his choosing, and has not been given access to over 5,000 pages of documents in his case file.

He is being tried alongside 20 others, who have all pled guilty and incriminated him.

– A complex image –
Rusesabagina is credited with sheltering hundreds of Rwandans inside a hotel he managed during the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

But in the years after Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex image emerged of the staunch government critic, whose tirades against President Paul Kagame’s regime made him an enemy of the state.

Kagame has been in power since 1994 and is accused by critics of crushing opponents and ruling through fear.

As Rusesabagina grew more critical, railing against Kagame’s anti-Hutu sentiment — an extremely sensitive topic in Rwanda — so his image at home worsened as the regime attacked his character.

Detractors claimed he embellished his heroics, while some survivors groups accused him of profiting from their misery.

Rusesabagina has admitted to helping form the National Liberation Front (FLN), but denied any roles in its crimes.

Rwandan authorities blamed the FLN for a series of deadly attacks in 2018.

In a 2018 video supporting the FLN, Rusesabagina said: “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.”

Hotel Rwanda ‘Hero’ Admits Forming Armed Group Behind Attacks

Paul Rusesabagina
“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina in the pink inmate’s uniform arrives from the Nyarugenge prison with Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) officers at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 25, 2020.  (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)

 

 

Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film, admitted to a Kigali court on Friday that he had formed an armed group but denied any role in their crimes.

Rusesabagina is famed for his depiction in the movie in which he is shown to have saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, which left some 800,000 dead.

After years in exile, where he has become a fierce government critic, he appeared under arrest in Rwanda last month, after apparently being lured into a private jet under false pretences.

In recent years Rusesabagina co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition party based abroad.

While he has previously expressed support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Nyungwe, near the border with Burundi, his exact role has been unclear.

“We formed the FLN (National Liberation Front) as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group as the prosecution keeps saying. I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” he said in court Friday.

“The agreement we signed to form MRCD as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called FLN. But my work was under the political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy

AFP

Arrested ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Duped Into Flying To Kigali

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C) is escorted by police officers to leave after his pre-trial court session at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. / AFP / STRINGER

 

 

Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film who was arrested last month in Kigali, was duped into boarding a jet he thought was flying to Burundi, a New York Times report said.

“How I got here — now that is a surprise,” he told the US daily in a jailhouse interview with two Rwandan officials in the room. “I was actually not coming here.”

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became famous after the Hollywood film in which he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as they sheltered in the hotel he ran during the country’s 1994 genocide.

Some 800,000 mostly Tutsi but also moderate Hutu were killed in the genocide.

The 66-year-old has lived in exile since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US “green card”.

 

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. / AFP / STRINGER

 

Over the years, he has become a staunch critic of leader Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.

According to the NYT’s Friday report, Rusesabagina flew from the US to Dubai on August 26, before boarding a private jet he thought was heading to Bujumbura in Burundi which neighbours Rwanda.

The plane was operated by GainJet, a charter company based in Greece that is often used by Kagame, the report said.

But it landed in Kigali where Rusesabagina was arrested. The NYT quoted Rwanda’s spy chief as saying “he delivered himself here.”

He has since been charged with terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder, arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.

Rusesabagina says he was heading to Burundi at the invitation of a pastor, to speak in his churches.

 

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. AFP / STRINGER

 

But the NYT was not able to speak to the pastor and says Rwandan officials believe he was actually heading there to coordinate with armed groups based in Burundi and Congo.

In 2018, Rusesabagina co-founded an opposition group, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).

In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN — which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda — but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.

He has denied forming the FLN.

AFP

‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Charged With Terrorism, Financing Rebels

hotel-rwanda
A Rwandan man reads an article from the French publication TV5 on his phone about Aloys Ntiwiragabo, a Rwandan Genocide suspect on August 26, 2020. AFP

 

Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was charged Monday with terrorism and other serious crimes in his first court appearance in Kigali.

Appearing drained, Rusesabagina appealed to the court to grant him bail to seek medical attention, however, the prosecution argued he was a flight risk and a ruling was pushed to Thursday.

Rusesabagina, who had become a high-profile critic of the government and has been living abroad for years, appeared last month in handcuffs and under arrest in Kigali.

His family say he would never have returned home of his own accord, and believe he was kidnapped while in Dubai. Neither Kigali nor any foreign government have given an account of his arrest.

 

File photo: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame reacts in front of a wreath for the 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 7, 2019. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

There was a heavy police presence as Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving more than 1,200 Rwandans during the genocide by sheltering them in a hotel, made his first appearance in court.

He is facing 13 charges including terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder and arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.

The stony-faced defendant, wearing a face mask, a beige chequered blazer and khaki trousers, refused to enter a guilty or not-guilty plea, with his lawyers arguing that this will be asked of him when the trial begins in substance.

“Like my lawyers have said, I am sick and in need of constant medical care. In the past two weeks, I have been to hospital three times. I request for bail and I guarantee the court that I will not flee from justice,” said Rusesabagina.

The 66-year-old is a cancer survivor and suffers from a heart condition and hypertension, both requiring ongoing medication, his family have said previously.

– A complex hero –
Rusesabagina’s heroic tale has grown more complex than the film suggests, with survivors of the slaughter that left 800,000 mostly Tutsis dead accusing him of profiting off their misery.

Supporters of the former manager of the Hotel Mille Collines believe Kigali has worked to tarnish his image due to his strident criticism of the government.

Rusesabagina has lived abroad since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US Green Card.

After the genocide, Rusesabagina — a Hutu — became increasingly critical of Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.

He co-founded an opposition group the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).

In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN — which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda — but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.

In his address to the court Rusesabagina denied forming the FLN, and said their actions should be blamed on them alone.

He admitted sending some 20,000 euros ($23,000) to FLN commander Callixte Nsabimana — who is on trial on similar charges — but denied this was for rebel activities.

“I grew up in the same area as Sankara in Rwanda and my wife was very close to his mother. The money I sent him was meant to provide medication to a child under his care,” Rusesabagina said.

Further details of the charges against him will be released during the trial.

Rusesabagina’s family has criticised Rwandan authorities for handing him a list of lawyers to choose from, and not giving him access to his own legal team.

“Paul’s family reiterates his right to consult with lawyers of his own choosing, particularly given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his arrest,” family spokeswoman Kitty Kurth said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch said last week that Rusesabagina, who was portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film, was a victim of enforced disappearance.

President Paul Kagame has denied he was kidnapped and suggested he was deceived into returning to the country.

AFP

‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Returned To Country Of Own Accord – Kagame

hotel-rwanda
A Rwandan man reads an article from the French publication TV5 on his phone about Aloys Ntiwiragabo, a Rwandan Genocide suspect on August 26, 2020.  AFP

 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said Sunday that the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film had returned home of his own accord, where he was arrested, denying his family’s claims he was kidnapped abroad.

Paul Rusesabagina, who became the most famous Rwandan in the world after the Hollywood blockbuster, had been living in exile until he surfaced in Kigali last week under arrest and accused of financing rebels.

His family argued he had been kidnapped and forced to return to the country where his image is more complex than in the famed movie, where he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people during the country’s 1994 genocide.

In a speech to the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, Kagame said Rusesabagina had himself returned to Rwanda, where he now stands accused of murder, arson, kidnapping and terrorism.

“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 wrongdoing in the process of his getting here,” said Kagame.

“He got here on the basis of what he believed he wanted to do and he found himself here.”

 

File photo: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame reacts in front of a wreath for the 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 7, 2019. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

His niece and adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba, told AFP Rusesabagina was in Dubai for meetings before suddenly being paraded handcuffed in Kigali. Police in Dubai have declined to comment.

“I don’t know how he got to Rwanda. I read reports that he got on a private plane… however he would never have done that by his own free will because he knows that in Rwanda they want him dead,” she said.

– Global platform –

Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, became disillusioned with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) after its troops flushed out the genocidal regime and ended the slaughter that left some 800,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus — dead.

He accused Kagame and his ruling RPF of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment as the new regime violently consolidated its power in the aftermath of the genocide.

He left Rwanda in 1996 along with other moderates who believed the space for political opposition was fast shrinking.

But the release of the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004 gave him a new global platform to thunder against Kigali, where efforts rose to tarnish his image as a hero.

Survivors groups accused him of profiting from their misery and embellishing his heroics. They pointed out that he charged guests for rooms as they sought refuge, and suggested he wasn’t the altruistic saviour portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle.

Rusesabagina’s rhetoric hardened, and he railed against Hutu oppression and called for the overthrow of Kagame at all costs, including through armed struggle.

“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 said in a 2018 video pledging support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda, and urging others to join.

Rwanda Arrests Hotelier From ‘Hotel Rwanda’ On ‘Terrorism’

hotel-rwanda
A Rwandan man reads an article from the French publication TV5 on his phone about Aloys Ntiwiragabo, a Rwandan Genocide suspect on August 26, 2020.  AFP

 

 

Rwandan investigators announced Monday they had arrested Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroic actions during the 1994 genocide were depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda”, accusing the high-profile government critic of terrorism.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) said Rusesabagina, who lives in Belgium, had been detained “through international cooperation” and was being held at a police station in the capital on serious charges.

“With the cooperation of the international community, Paul Rusesabagina was arrested and he is now in the hands of RIB,” RIB acting spokesman Thierry Murangira told reporters in Kigali.

Murangira refused to detail how the arrest occurred or the extent of involvement of international authorities in detaining the outspoken critic of long-ruling President Paul Kagame, claiming doing so “could jeopardise investigations”.

Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, told AFP they were informed of Rusesabagina’s arrest by Rwandan authorities “but we have no details of the circumstances”.

Murangira said Rusesabagina, who has agitated for political change in Rwanda from abroad, was the subject of an international arrest warrant and “suspected of financing and creating terror groups” operating in East Africa and overseas.

He is accused by investigators of terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder, including against his own countrymen on Rwandan soil in two incidences in June and December 2018.

– Fierce critic –

During the 1994 genocide, as manager of the Hotel des Diplomates in Kigali, Rusesabagina used his influence and connections to shelter 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia.

American actor Don Cheadle played him in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda.”

From Belgium, where he sought asylum with his wife and children, Rusesabagina became a fierce critic of Kagame, who has been in power since 1994 when his forces overthrew the genocidal regime.

Rusesabagina has accused Kagame’s government of killing opposition figures and detaining and torturing activists both at home and abroad.

The RIB has said the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which Rusesabagina co-founded abroad, and its armed wing, the FLN, are “extremist terror outfits”. Rwanda has also accused neighbours, including Burundi and Uganda, of harbouring the group.

Rusesabagina, in a video posted to YouTube in December 2018, said the FLN was seeking to “liberate” Rwanda from an oppressive government in Kigali.

Once championed in Western capitals as a reformer, Kagame has been criticised for overseeing constitutional changes to prolong his rule and cracking down on opposition voices.

AFP