Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose story inspired the Academy Award-nominated 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” has been arrested on charges of terrorism in his native country of Rwanda, according to CNN. The Rwandan government alleges that he is the “founder, leader, and sponsor of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits,” accused of perpetrating a series of rural attacks in the summer of 2018. News of his arrest only broke after Rwandan police and security officials publicly displayed him in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, at the end of August.
Rusesabagina’s arrest and appearance as a prisoner in Rwanda are shocking developments. As an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina has purposely avoided returning to his native country since he fled in 1996 following a failed assassination attempt, explains The New York Times. He was reportedly tricked into returning to Rwanda with a ruse coordinated by Rwandan intelligence services. In August, Rusesabagina left his current home in San Antonio, Texas under the impression that he was traveling to give a speech at a friend’s church in Burundi, Rwanda’s southern neighbor. After a layover in Dubai, he boarded a private jet, which was sent for him, expecting to be taken to his intended destination in Bujumbura, Burundi. The private jet, operated by a Greek company which is frequently used by President Kagame, secretly flew to Kigali instead of Rusesabagina’s Burundian destination. Once the plane landed, Rusesabagina reports being physically bound, detained, and interrogated for a few days before his arrest was made public.
Since the release of “Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina has been praised as a human rights activist, winning the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is an ardent critic of long-time Rwandan President Kagame and is the leader of an opposition party, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), according to Al Jazeera. The MRCD is associated with an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN). According to the Guardian, the Rwandan government has blamed cells of the FLN for carrying out a series of terrorist attacks in rural Rwanda in 2018 that left 9 dead and many injured. Due to his involvement with the MRCD/FLN and the emergence of a video taken months after these horrific attacks, in which Rusesabagina calls for “change by any means,” the Rwandan government is convinced of his guilt and his direct involvement with these attacks.
Rusesabagina’s family maintains his innocence, explaining his recent arrest by pointing to President Kagame’s long history of silencing political opponents and personal enemies through the weight of the Rwandan government. According to NPR, President Kagame continuously works to dismantle the democratic institutions of Rwanda, including freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Over the last ten years, multiple critics of the Kagame regime have mysteriously turned up dead, both within Rwanda and abroad.
Rusesabagina, the man who, according to the BBC, saved the lives of over 1,200 people using his job as a hotelier at an expensive Belgian-owned hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is currently awaiting what President Kagame vowed would be a fair and public trial in Kigali.