Authorities in Rwanda on Monday confirmed the arrest and extradition of Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan former hotel manager who became famous for saving over 1,200 people from genocide in 1994, on charges of “terrorism, arson, kidnap [sic], and murder.”
Rusesabagina, who has not lived in Rwanda since the genocide concluded, is a vocal opponent of longtime leader Paul Kagame and called for the country to remove him by “any means possible” in 2018. Rwandan officials began circulating the video of him making that statement again on Tuesday to make the case that Rusesabagina has been a threat for years.
The former hotel manager’s children have decried his arrest as a kidnapping and denied all the allegations against him, both those made by the government and by pro-Kagame media. The New Times, a Rwandan newspaper known to be favorable to the regime, has repeatedly accused Rusesabagina of denying that the Rwandan genocide ever happened.
As manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines during the genocide, Rusesabagina, the son of both ethnic Hutu and Tutsi parents, but of Hutu identity and married to a Tutsi woman, hid 1,268 people from the roving militias of Hutus seeking to exterminate Tutsis nationwide. He has since lived in Texas and Belgium and holds Belgian citizenship. He is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
His arrest happened abroad — Rwandan authorities called it a product of “international cooperation,” but did not say where they apprehended him. His children told international media outlets they last spoke to him in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“Through international cooperation, Paul Rusesabagina was arrested and is in the custody of RIB,” the Rwandan Investigation Bureau confirmed in a statement on Monday. “Rusesabagina is suspected to be the founder, leader, sponsor, and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits including MRCD and PDR-Ihumure, operating out of various places in the region and abroad.” The statement listed the charges against him as “terrorism, arson, kidnap [sic] and murder, perpetrated against unarmed, innocent Rwandan civilians on Rwandan territory.”
The MRCD is the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, an anti-Kagame group that Rusesabagina, at least at one time, reportedly led. A spokesman for that group, Callixte Nsabimana Sankara, announced what Reuters described as an “armed struggle” against Kagame in 2018, when the crimes for which Rusesabagina face charges allegedly occurred. PDR-Ihumure is how the Rwandan government refers to the Party for Democracy in Rwanda that Rusesabagina founded in Brussels that Kigali has branded a terrorist organization. Nsabimana was arrested in 2019 and pled guilty to 16 charges of terrorism in May of that year; as Kagame’s government is repressive, it is not clear if he confessed to the charges under duress.
Authorities also posted photos online of Rusesabagina in Kigali to confirm he is alive and in custody.
The New Times quoted a spokesman for the RIB, Thierry Murangira, telling reporters that Rusesabagina is facing prosecution for specific acts of violence in 2018 attributed to the two groups.
“We want the public to know that it is a matter of time. All the others (terror suspects) too will be arrested. No one will kill Rwandans and go scot free,” Murangira reportedly said.
The New Times went on to state that Rusesabangina’s political opponents have accused him for years of funneling money from his charitable organization, the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF) into terrorist groups, in particular the armed wing of the MRCD.
Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, told the Associated Press that her father was “kidnapped.”
“What they’re accusing him of is all made up,” she told the agency. “There is no evidence to what they’re claiming … We know this is a wrongful arrest.”
Kanimba said she last spoke to her father in Dubai.
Trésor Rusesabagina, Paul’s son, told CNN that he last spoke to his father on Thursday and that he was last in Dubai, again suggesting that the UAE extradited him to Rwanda.
“That is the last time we talked to him, that is the last time we heard from him and ever since that it has just been silence,” the younger Rusesabagina said. “Having a thought is a crime in some places. Being your own man is a crime in some places. My father is guilty of having the guts to speak up. This is political, of course it is. These are the games they play.”
The government of the UAE did not respond to the AP or CNN in their requests for comment.
Speaking to the AP, a spokesman for the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition group operating in the United States, took the lack of clarity on where Rusesabagina was arrested or who cooperated in his detention as a sign that he is not a clear-cut criminal and involvement in his arrest may lead to human rights concerns.
“No country has broadly conceded that it arrested and handed over Mr. Rusesabagina to the Rwandan authorities,” the spokesman, Etienne Mutabazi, told AP. “This is a clear indication that whatever happened was illegal and nobody wants to take responsibility for blatant illegal action.”
Rusesabagina has regularly been a target of scorn among those who support Kagame. The New Times, the pro-government newspaper, penned a screed against Rusesabagina in January after he was booked to speak at an event in San Antonio, Texas. The newspaper cited alleged survivors of the Hotel des Milles Collines who said that Rusesabagina was not saving people for the sake of heroism, but demanding cash for each, generating significant wealth, and that many died because they could not pay him for shelter.
“Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro said that apart from being a supporter of genocidaires, a terrorist and conman, there is no worst fake news like seeing Rusesabagina and his foundation being falsely described as a humanitarian,” the New Times article read. The researcher, Ndahiro, later blamed “racism” for any praise Rusesabagina has received in the West.
In an interview in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of the genocide, Rusesabagina accused Kagame of running “the worst dictatorship I have ever seen.”
“It’s a shame that, 20 years later, we have not learned from the history of what happened in 1994. The current government is doing worse things than leaders before the genocide,” Rusesabagina asserted.
The Rwandan genocide resulted in the deaths of at least 800,000 in less than a year.