Paul Rusesabagina of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Fame Was ‘Kidnapped,’ Daughter Says


NAIROBI, Kenya — When Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved more than 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide, landed in Dubai last Thursday, he texted his family members on the messaging application WhatsApp to assure them he had arrived safely.

That was the last the family said they heard of him until Monday, when authorities in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, paraded him in handcuffs in front of the media, and said he was being held on charges including terrorism, arson and murder.

“We were shocked and surprised,” Carine Kanimba, one of his daughters, said in a telephone interview from Washington on Tuesday.

The case of Mr. Rusesabagina has caused consternation in the United States and Belgium, where he has lived in exile over many years, and in Rwanda, where residents debate his international reputation as a human-rights activist. In Rwanda, he is known as a fierce opponent of the country’s president — Paul Kagame — who has clamped down hard on dissent.

It is still unclear how Mr. Rusesabagina got from Dubai to Rwanda. The Rwandan government said Mr. Rusesabagina was arrested through an “international arrest warrant” but did not specify when or what country might have helped.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said on Monday that Mr. Rusesabagina, 66, was suspected of being “the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits,” including the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, or M.R.C.D., and the Party for Democracy in Rwanda, or P.D.R.-Ihumure, both opposition parties.

The M.R.C.D. has a militant wing known as the National Liberation Forces, which operates in the region and has been linked to attacks in Rwanda.

Rwandan officials said on Tuesday that they could not release any more information about the case at this time, and that investigations were ongoing. The minister of justice did not respond to interview requests.

Ms. Kanimba said that her father had gone from the United States to Dubai for what he said was a short meeting, and that he was to return on Tuesday to the United States, where he lives. But instead, she said, Mr. Rusesabagina was “kidnapped” and arrested on “false charges” for his criticism of the Rwandan government and Mr. Kagame.

“He wanted to speak for the people whose voices were suppressed,” said Ms. Kanimba, 27, who works in impact investing. “It’s time for the world and international community to speak up for him.”

Mr. Rusesabagina became known after the 1994 genocide, in which, according to many accounts, he sheltered more than 1,200 people in the Milles Collines hotel in Kigali, where he worked as a manager. A trained hotelier who studied in both Kenya and Switzerland, he was said to have risked his life to shelter both Hutus and Tutsis from the genocide that killed as many as one million Rwandans in 100 days.

His story was captured in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” which starred Don Cheadle as Mr. Rusesabagina. In 2006, he published an autobiography, “An Ordinary Man,” which detailed the tumultuous days when he held off killers who were targeting those who had sought his protection.

Mr. Rusesabagina received international recognition, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.

In recent years, Mr. Rusesabagina became a central figure in various movements that were trying to unseat Mr. Kagame’s government. In 2010, Rwandan authorities accused him of helping to fund the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which is active in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and includes members who are accused of having links to the Rwandan genocide.

Mr. Rusesabagina also joined forces with the first prime minister of Rwanda, Faustin Twagiramungu, to create a diaspora-based opposition coalition.

“His story shows the volatility of Rwandan politics and the unpredictable choices many actors from the genocide have made since,” said Phil Clark, a professor of international politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, whose research focuses on the African Great Lakes region.

“Rusesabagina’s alleged links to armed groups in eastern Congohave made him a target for prosecution,” he added.

Over the years, some have raised questions about the account of Mr. Rusesabagina’s heroism during the genocide, Mr. Clark said.

“It’s well known in Kigali that Rusesabagina handed over some Tutsi to the Hutu militias and made a considerable profit by demanding protection money from some survivors,” Mr. Clark noted, adding, “His role during the genocide was much less heroic than widely assumed.”

A Belgian citizen and an American resident, Mr. Rusesabagina lives in exile in San Antonio. He is the father of six children and seven grandchildren, said Ms. Kanimba. As the coronavirus pandemic limited travel, he continued to advocate “peace and change” in Rwanda, she said.

Officials in the United States and Belgium have given no “substantive response” to requests from his family to intervene, said Kitty Kurthy, a spokeswoman for the family and the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, which says it works on issues related to genocide and conflict worldwide.





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