A Rwandan court on Thursday denied bail to Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” saying the terrorism and other charges against him are serious and he should remain in detention for another 30 days.
Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident who has been a critic of President Paul Kagame, was charged this week with 13 offenses that also include financing terrorism, complicity in murder, recruiting child soldiers and forming a rebel group. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison. It’s not clear when his trial will begin.
The 66-year-old Rusesabagina also has given the first details of how he disappeared while visiting Dubai and reappeared in handcuffs days later in Rwanda, a country his family says he’d never return to voluntarily. Speaking to The New York Times with Rwandan authorities present, he said he thought the private plane he boarded in Dubai was going to Bujumbura, Burundi, where he’d speak to churches at a pastor’s invitation.
Instead, Rusesabagina stepped out of the plane and was surrounded by Rwandan soldiers, the report said. He said he was then tied up, couldn’t see and didn’t know where he was.
The Rwandan court has said he was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting the earlier police version that he was arrested through “international cooperation.” Kagame this week indicated that Rusesabagina may have been tricked into boarding the plane, adding; “It was actually flawless!”
Human Rights Watch has asserted that Rusesabagina was “forcibly disappeared,” saying that the lack of lawful extradition proceedings suggests that Rwandan authorities don’t believe their evidence would stand up to independent scrutiny.
Rusesabagina had asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to a hospital three times since he first appeared in handcuffs in Rwanda on Aug. 31. He looked frail during his court appearance.
“I assure the court that I will not flee from justice,” Rusesabagina said. He said he will appeal the court’s decision.
The denial of bail further alarmed his family, which along with some human rights and legal groups has expressed concern that his arrest is the latest example of Rwanda targeting critics. “We have no hope that he can be given fair justice in Rwanda and ask for his immediate release,” daughter Carine Kanimba said Thursday on social media.
Rusesabagina earlier this week said he denied the accusations during questioning by Rwandan investigators.
He also distanced himself from the activities of a rebel movement that is the armed wing of his opposition political platform, saying he was not the movement’s leader and that the group’s members should be held responsible. The armed wing has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Rwanda.
Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. For his efforts he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. But he has faced criticism from Rwandan authorities in the years since he began speaking out against alleged human rights abuses by Kagame’s government.
Government supporters reject Rusesabagina’s criticism, saying Kagame’s leadership supports democracy and economic growth.