The Rwanda government planned the “kidnap” of Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina from Dubai to Kigali.
President Paul Kagame government used an identified pastor to lure Rusesabigina into a trap and paid for the flight that landed the two in Kigali.
In a video exclusively obtained by Al Jazeera the Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye told his government’s public relations experts that his government hired the plane that transported Rusesabagina against his will.
The Rwandan authorities have, including in interviews with The New York Times, previously confirmed that they had leased the charter service for government operations, but never explicitly confirmed having hired the exact flight that brought Mr. Rusesabagina to Kigali.
Ever since Mr. Rusesabagina, the prominent dissident whose efforts to save more than 1,200 people during the country’s genocide was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda,” was presented to the press handcuffed in Kigali on August 31, 2020 questions have swirled about how he ended up there.
He left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and arrived in Dubai on an Emirates flight from Chicago on the evening of August 27. He then checked into the Ibis Hotel in Dubai, according to a document from the United Arab Emirates mission in Geneva, and five hours later boarded a private jet that he believed was headed to Burundi, where he planned to speak to churches at the invitation of a local pastor.
The next day, the plane, operated by the Greece-based charter firm GainJet, landed in Kigali, where he was arrested, bound and interrogated.
The unidentified local pastor, according to the Justice Minister, worked with the Rwanda government to trap Rusesabagina.
In December, Mr. Rusesabagina and his family sued GainJet over its role in the episode.
After his arrest, President Paul Kagame — whose government had been trying to apprehend the 66-year-old Mr. Rusesabagina for years — dubbed the operation “flawless” and but denied that it was not a kidnapping.
The Rwandan Justice Minister has also confessed that his government through prisons authorities has been intercepting communication to and from Rusesabagina, an action that could compromise prosecution.
Mr Busingye, who doubles as Rwanda’s attorney general inadvertently revealed that he had intercepted privileged and confidential legal materials in the ongoing terrorism case against Paul Rusesabagina
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mr Busingye rejected accusations that his government had confiscated Mr. Rusesabagina’s papers or trampled on attorney-client privilege.
However, in an hour-and-half-long preparation video that his public relations team accidentally sent to the Al Jazeera, Mr. Busingye contradicted himself, saying that the prison authorities had intercepted correspondence between Mr. Rusesabagina and his lawyers and children, some of which included escape plans.
“If that has happened, it will be raised in the courts and the courts will address it fairly,” the Minister told the Al Jazeera interviewer, Marc Lamont Hill, on the “UpFront” show.
Kate Gibson, Mr. Rusesabagina’s lead counsel, has said Rusesabagina’s papers “continue to be routinely and systematically confiscated, including his privileged and confidential materials.”
Ms. Gibson, who is one of three lawyers awaiting permission to represent the former hotelier in Kigali, said in an email to the media; “We now see from the Al Jazeera preparation video that the content of privileged and confidential legal documents are making their way to the highest levels,” she said in an email. “The right to confidential communication is at the heart of legal representation. Without it, it is impossible to consider proceedings fair.”
But Mr Busigye has argued that the prisons authorities could have intercepted Rusesabigina’s communication for his safety saying that there were plans to help the movie star escape from prison.
As for Mr. Rusesabagina’s escape plans, his daughter Carine Kanimba said she had received WhatsApp and Twitter messages since November of a person claiming to be one of her father’s prison guards. The messages, both audio and written and reviewed by The Times, described Mr. Rusesabagina’s routine and suggested ways of helping him escape.
“I never responded,” Ms. Kanimba said in a telephone interview. “My fear was that I would respond and that they would use that against my father.”
In December, the family also shared the material with the F.B.I., the U.S. State Department, and the Belgian foreign ministry.
The latest revelations came just hours after a Rwandan court on Friday February 26 ruled that it had jurisdiction to try Mr. Rusesabagina — a Belgian citizen and permanent resident of the United States. It also came as the trial faces widespread condemnation from entities including rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament.
The latest disclosures, his lawyers say, also cloud the prospects of Mr. Rusesabagina’s getting a fair hearing, given that his international lawyers have not been permitted into Kigali to represent him and prison officials continue to confiscate his case files.
Rusesabagina has argued he is a Belgian citizen who was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda, a country he left in 1996. The judge, however, said the court does not find it relevant to talk about how he was detained.
He faces nine charges including the formation of an irregular armed group; membership in a terrorist group; financing terrorism; and murder, abduction and armed robbery as an act of terrorism. If convicted, he could face more than 20 years in prison.
The court has found that both Rwanda and Belgium have the jurisdiction to try him, but “there is no justification for his trial to be moved from Rwanda to Belgium as he requested”.
The court also heard that some of Rusesabagina’s co-accused were brought from neighbouring Congo to Rwanda without an extradition process.
The US State Department says it has engaged with Rwanda’s government at the “highest levels” about the case of Rusesabagina, a US permanent resident.
Mr. Rusesabagina has told his lawyers that he is afraid to die of a stroke in prison, and his family members have said they remain concerned about his deteriorating health.
As the manager of a five-star hotel where 1,268 people sheltered from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina was known for his cool head — a quality that kept the killers at bay, helped ensure that all his guests survived, and led to an Oscar-nominated movie, “Hotel Rwanda,” that brought his story to a global audience.
Now Mr. Rusesabagina is back in Rwanda, but this time under arrest. Not long ago Mr. Rusesabagina, 66, was the toast of America, feted by Oprah Winfrey, awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and earning large fees for his speeches around the world — a human rights icon who warned about the horrors of genocide and offered a living example of standing up to it.
Now he finds himself in a country he vowed never to return to, at the mercy of a president who pursued him for 13 years, and preparing to stand trial for murder, arson and terrorism.
“How I got here — now that is a surprise,” he said while in a jailhouse interview. “I was actually not coming here.”
Mr. Rusesabagina was a leader of a coalition of opposition groups, all in exile, that includes an armed wing. In an address to those groups in 2018, recorded in a video now widely circulated by the government, Mr. Rusesabagina says that politics has failed in Rwanda. “The time for us has come to use any means possible to bring about change,” he said. “It is time to attempt our last resort.”
From prison, he said his group’s role was not fighting, but “diplomacy” to represent the millions of Rwandan refugees and exiles.
“We are not a terrorist organization,” he said.
One day in late 1994, a soldier burst into Mr. Rusesabagina’s home and tried to shoot him. He managed to flee, but it “left him anxious,” recalled his son, Roger, 41, speaking from Billerica, Mass.
Two years later, Mr. Rusesabagina received warnings that his life was in danger and his passport might be confiscated. The following day, the family bolted for Uganda, and soon after, moved to Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial power.
Mr. Rusesabagina applied for political asylum, drove a taxi, and bought a house in the Brussels suburbs. In 1998, his story featured in an acclaimed account of the genocide, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” by the American writer Philip Gourevitch. Otherwise, he wallowed in obscurity.
Terry George, the Irish film director, first met Mr. Rusesabagina in Brussels in 2002, a passenger in his Mercedes taxi. A year later they traveled together for a research trip to Rwanda.
At Kigali airport, they were greeted by a crowd of cheering genocide survivors, Mr. George recalled, and at the Mille Collines hotel, teary-eyed staff gushed about their former boss. “A hero’s welcome,” Mr. George said.
Mr. Rusesabagina’s apprehensions about his safety had vanished, and he bought a plot to build a house. “I thought that things had changed,” he said from his cell this past week.
Mr. George’s “Hotel Rwanda,” released in 2004, was lauded by critics and Hollywood royalty. At the Los Angeles premiere, Angelina Jolie, Harrison Ford and Matt Damon posed with Mr. Rusesabagina on the red carpet. Amnesty International promoted the film and it won three Academy Award nominations, including best actor for Don Cheadle, who played Mr. Rusesabagina.
In April 2005, for the Rwandan premiere, Mr. George flew from the United States to Brussels to rendezvous with Mr. Rusesabagina and his wife for the flight to Kigali. But only she was at the gate. Mr. Rusesabagina declined to board at the last minute.
“He said he didn’t feel safe,” said Mr. George. “He said he had been warned not to come to Kigali.”
In Rwanda, though, Mr. Kagame seemed to appreciate the film. He sat between his wife, Jeannette, and Mr. George for a screening in the InterContinental Hotel ballroom. When the audience cheered during a scene that showed Mr. Kagame’s face, the president chuckled.
A year later, in May 2006, Mr. Kagame invited Mr. Cheadle and his family to the presidential palace in Kigali. While the adults shared a traditional drink of fermented milk, their children played together. About the film, Mr. Kagame “only said that he was grateful for the attention it brought to his country,” Mr. Cheadle recalled.
After President George W. Bush awarded Mr. Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian award, in November 2005, the pro-government New Times published a series of articles attacking the hotelier. “A man who sold the soul of the Rwandan Genocide to amass medals” read one article.
Months later, Mr. Kagame said Rwanda had no need for “manufactured” heroes “made in Europe or America.”
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