As the Rwandan National Public Prosecution Authority examines the case file of Paul Rusesabagina, a political opponent best known internationally as the manager of a hotel in Kigali where over 1200 people sought refuge during the genocide, Amnesty International on Monday called on the Rwandan authorities to guarantee his right to a fair trial.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) carried out investigations into Rusesabagina on allegations including terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder allegedly committed in Nyaruguru district in June 2018 and Nyamagabe district in December 2018. They handed over his case file to the public prosecution on 9 September 2020.
“The lack of transparency around the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina and reports that he has been denied access to the lawyer hired by his family are red flags that cannot be ignored as the authorities prepare for his trial,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“The authorities must come clean on the circumstances of his arrest, and exactly what transpired between Thursday 27 August when he spoke to his family after arriving in Dubai, and Monday 31 August, when he was paraded in front of the media in Kigali. Assuming he was in detention during this time and the Rwandan authorities concealed information on his whereabouts, this amounts to an enforced disappearance.”
“He should be brought promptly before a judge to oversee the lawfulness of his detention and to prevent further violations of his rights.”
The Rwandan authorities have so far refused to explain the circumstances of Rusesabagina’s transfer to Rwanda. An official from the United Arab Emirates has been quoted in the media saying Rusesabagina left Dubai legally on a private jet, denying that his government had any involvement in his arrest.
President Paul Kagame, while denying that he had been abducted, hinted on national television on Sunday 6 September that Rusesabagina, a Belgian national and US resident, had somehow been tricked into returning to the country, saying that “he got here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do. It’s like you’re calling a number when you want to get in touch with somebody and you find you have dialled a wrong number – that’s how it happened. There was no kidnap. It was actually flawless.”
Paul Rusesabagina is reported to have chosen a defence lawyer from a list provided by the Rwanda Bar Association. His family have also put together a legal team including another Rwandan lawyer, who has been denied access to Rusesabagina, and five other lawyers based overseas.
“Rusesabagina has a right to legal counsel of his own choosing. He should be allowed to meet privately with the legal counsel appointed by his family so that he can make an informed decision on his defence team,” said Deprose Muchena.
While Rusesabagina has told a journalist – who was given access in an unusual move by the RIB and before Rusesabagina had contact with legal counsel, consular officials or his family – that he had been treated with kindness and that he had been grant access to doctors and his medication, he is not in a position to speak freely while in custody.
In 2017, the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture suspended a visit to Rwanda because they were prevented from carrying out private and confidential interviews with some detainees, and because of risks of reprisals to those they would speak to.
Paul Rusesabagina was allowed a phone call to his family on 8 September, but they told Amnesty that he could not speak freely.
Amnesty has documented numerous violations of fair trial rights in previous cases involving opponents and critics of the government.
Paul Rusesabagina, who gained international recognition following the release of the film Hotel Rwanda in 2004, has been involved in opposition politics in diaspora for many years and has been critical of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) government’s record.
He founded the PDR-Ihumure political party in 2006. He is currently president of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a coalition of opposition groups including PDR-Ihumure, whose armed wing, the National Liberation Forces (FLN) claimed responsibility for armed attacks inside Rwanda in 2018. Rusesabagina has publicly pledged his unreserved support to the FLN.
Callixte Nsabimana, the FLN’s former spokesperson, was arrested in 2019 and is currently on trial on charges including the formation of an illegal militia group; taking part in terrorist activities, killing, kidnapping, denying and undermining the genocide.