A Rwandan court has charged Paul Rusesabagina – whose story inspired the film Hotel Rwanda – with terrorism, complicity in murder and forming an armed rebel group.
Rusesabagina declined to respond to all 13 charges, saying some did not qualify as criminal offences and adding that he denied the accusations when he was questioned by Rwandan investigators.
The 66-year-old asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to hospital three times in the time 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,” he said. The court in Kigali said it will rule on his bail application on Thursday.
Rusesabagina, credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during Rwanda’s 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.
He was represented by Rwandan lawyers David Rugaza and Ameline Nyembo, who have been discounted as state-imposed representation by his family outside Rwanda.
Neither his lawyers nor the prosecution explained the circumstances under which Rusesabagina arrived in Kigali at the end of August from Dubai. He had travelled from the US to Dubai and then mysteriously appeared in Rwanda.
The Rwandan court said he 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 a national broadcaster 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 on Monday urged 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 the family was not even aware he was to appear in court on Monday as the state-appointed lawyers did not inform them. She said they learned of the court hearing through the media.
“This is a travesty of justice,” she 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.
The international group Human Rights Watch said last week 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 Human Rights Watch’s Central Africa director Lewis Mudge.
Rusesabagina became famous for protecting more than 1,000 people as a hotel manager during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. He was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
But Rwandan authorities accuse him of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed deadly attacks inside Rwanda. Rusesabagina has denied funding rebel groups and said he was being targeted over his criticism of Mr Kagame’s government and alleged rights abuses.
Rusesabagina has not lived in Rwanda since 1996. He holds Belgian citizenship and is a permanent resident of the US, living in San Antonio, Texas.
His family has appointed a team of international lawyers to represent him. Those lawyers are planning to fly to Rwanda later this week, said one.