Paul Rusesabagina, 66 whose role in saving more than a thousand lives inspired the film Hotel Rwanda was on Monday August 31, 2020 arrested on terrorism-related charges in the small east African country.
Thierry Murangira, the acting spokesperson of Rwanda Investigative Bureau (RIB) told the media that Rusesabagina, who lives in Belgium, had been arrested “through international cooperation”.
But the official could not divulge much into where the arrest was made. “For purposes of justice and investigation, we will not provide those details for now,” Thierry Murangira told The EastAfrican.
“Mr 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,” he said.
It remains unclear how Rusesabagina, a citizen of Belgium, ended up on Rwandan soil. The Belgian embassy told The EastAfrican that it had been notified about his arrest by the Rwandan government but that it had no involvement. The embassy further said Rusesabagina had not been deported from Belgium.
However, Anaise Kanimba, his daughter, claims that Rusesabagina was abducted from Dubai. Rwandan officials said on Monday that Rusesabagina had been arrested under an international warrant for leading “terrorist movements”. But the daughter told the BBC the allegation was false.
The family last heard from Mr Rusesabagina after he landed in Dubai on Thursday, Ms Kanimba said.
“We are not aware of how he got there [to Rwanda] and how this happened. This is why we believe he was kidnapped because he would never go to Rwanda on his own will.” Ms Kanimba told the BBC.
She said the body language of her father following his arrest suggested that he was “staying strong and he doesn’t want us to know that he is beaten and even if they have him he’s going to show us that he’s going to continue fighting”.
Her father, a US resident and a Belgian citizen, was a human rights advocate, Kanimba added. “So we would love these two places to help us get him home.
“The charges they have on him are baseless,” Ms Kanimba added in a BBC Newsday interview.
Paul Rusesabagina, 66, was the general manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital, during the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed with knives, clubs and other weapons.
The 2004 Oscar-nominated film told the story of how Rusesabagina, a middle-class Hutu married to a Tutsi, used his influence and bribes to save the lives of more than 1,200 people who sheltered at the Mille Collines hotel in the capital during the worst of the massacres.
In the film, Rusesabagina was played by US actor Don Cheadle.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President George Bush in 2005 and was also the recipient of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize from The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. His autobiography, An Ordinary Man, was published in 2006.
The vast majority of the victims of the genocide were from Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, though some Hutu moderates also died.
The announcement of his arrest on Monday came as a surprise and is shrouded in secrecy, with Rwandan officials declining to provide details about it.
His arrest comes barely a year after military operations by Congolese forces against Rwandan rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) left them weakened.
Mr Rusesabagina was propelled into the international limelight in 2004 by Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, which details his heroic actions during the1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
While living in Belgium and the US with his family, he formed the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) in 2018, an opposition party with a military wing — the National Liberation Front (FLN) that has claimed a spate of attacks in Rwanda from its base in eastern DRC.
He became a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since overthrowing the genocide forces in 1994, accusing his government of violating human rights.
In 2010, Rusesabagina spoke out against the jailing of the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, and four years ago announced a political campaign against the Rwandan government, which he called a dictatorship.
In Rwanda, he is seen as a criminal and criticized for using his celebrity status to fund rebel activities intent on destabilizing the country.
In April last year, FLN’s military commander, Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara, was arrested and deported from Comoros to faces several offences including the formation of an irregular armed group, complicity in committing terrorist acts, taking persons hostage, murder and looting, the RIB said.
In previous court trials, Mr Nsabimana claimed that Mr Rusesabagina received financial support from Zambia of up to $150,000 as part of a $1 million pledge to oust President Kagame. The Zambian government vehemently denounced the allegations.
In July, Zambia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Malanji jetted to Rwanda and held private talks with President Kagame on the matter.
Genesis of Rusesabagina’s problems
Around 20161 Rusesabagina announce that he had ‘officially’ joined politics and that himself and allied groups would not rest until they overthrow the Government of Rwanda.
In a media interview he proclaimed that they would be ‘door knocking’ and will be in Rwanda anytime soon to liberate Rwandans from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) rule.
In June 2018, the National Liberation Forces (NLF), an armed terrorist organisation created by the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a coalition of political parties founded by Rusesabagina, former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and others, launched attacks on Rwanda’s Southern Province, entering the country from Burundi.
A month later, the then NLF Spokesperson Callixte ‘Sankara’ Nsabimana, appearing in different videos on Youtube, boasted that they had infiltrated Rwanda and that they were present in Nyungwe Forest National Park and other parts of Rwanda, where they had established bases, from where they would launch attacks to topple the Rwandan government.
The armed attackers raided Nyabimata Sector, Nyaruguru District in the Southern Province killing two and injuring three.
According to Rwanda National Police, among the injured was the Executive Secretary of Nyabimata Sector, Vincent Nsengiyumva, whose car was torched, while scores of civilians were shot or hacked with machetes in the late-night attack.
The armed assailants unsuccessfully tried to break into Nyabimata Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (SACCO) but they were repulsed by security forces. They also attacked a small trading centre in Rumenero and looted goods and consumables from various shops.
The rebels had launched another attack earlier on June 10, 2018, in Mukunge Cell in Ngera Sector, in the same district, injuring and robbing people in a small business centre in the same vicinity.
The last recorded attack by NLF was in December 2018 when the armed group, again entering from Burundi, ambushed three passenger service vehicles inside Nyungwe Forest, killing scores and injuring many, some critically.
They would later be repulsed by Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), in a scathing operation which saw them flushed out of the natural forest, sustaining many fatalities and casualties in the process. Normalcy was restored and tourists returned to the park.
From his US base, Rusesabagina took responsibility for the attacks and casually admitted in different interviews recorded on video that his outfit was behind the violent attacks that claimed lives of dozens and mimed others.
“Since July 2018, the NLF launched a liberation struggle to liberate the Rwandan people, until today in 2019, it is imperative that we speed up the liberation struggle. Rwandan people can no longer stand the cruelty and all kinds of ill treatment directed to us by the RPF regime,”
“The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda. As all political means have been tried and failed, it is time to attempt our last resort,” Rusesabagina said in reference to the armed ‘liberation struggle’.
A book published in 2015 by Edouard Kayihura, one of the Mille Collines survivors, punched holes in Rusesabagina’s story, recounting stories of survivors who said that Rusesabagina was not the overall manager at the time as widely acknowledged and that he charged those who were sheltered at the hotel.
Witnesses said that those who didn’t have money were thrown out and left at the mercy of the killers who were combing the streets for Tutsis.
The book titled “Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story…and Why It Matters Today” puts across revealing aspects of Rusesabagina’s story which were omitted in ‘Hotel Rwanda’, indicating how the hotelier profiteered from desperate people who were running away from marauding Interahamwe militias.
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