Paul Rusesabagina admits backing rebels, denies violence | Rwanda
The former hotel manager, famous for his role in the Hotel Rwanda film, denies the role in violence by armed groups.
Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in a 2004 Hollywood film who helped save Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, has admitted in a Kigali court that he formed an armed group but denied any violence or to have supported murders.
The 66-year-old former hotel manager became famous after the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda showed him how he used his ties to the Hutu elite to protect the Tutsis fleeing the carnage during the 1994 Blooshed.
After years in exile, where he became a fierce critic of the government, he was arrested in Rwanda’s capital last month after he was lured onto a private jet, apparently on false pretenses.
In recent years Rusesabagina has co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition party based abroad. While he has previously expressed support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has taken responsibility for a number of attacks in Nyungwe near the border with Burundi, his exact role has been unclear.
“We founded the FLN (National Liberation Front) as an armed wing, not as a terrorist organization, as the public prosecutor keeps saying. I’m not denying that the FLN committed crimes, but my role was diplomacy, ”he told the court in a pink prison uniform.
“The agreement we signed to set up MRCD as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called the FLN. But my work was under the political platform and I was responsible for diplomacy. “
Rusesabagina wore a pink prison uniform for his bail hearing on Friday and told the court that he helped form the National Liberation Front in support of Rwandan refugees, but said he never supported violence.
The judge postponed his bail decision until October 2nd.
Rusesabagina, a Belgian national and US resident who was a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame, is charged with 13 offenses, including financing terrorism, complicity in murder, recruiting child soldiers and forming a rebel group . If convicted, he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison. It is not clear when his trial will begin.
Earlier this month, he described how he disappeared while visiting Dubai and showed up days later in Rwanda, a country to which his family said they would never return voluntarily. Speaking to the New York Times with Rwandan authorities present, he said he believed the private plane he boarded in Dubai was going to Bujumbura, Burundi, where he was going to speak to churches at the invitation of a pastor.
Instead, Rusesabagina got off the plane and was surrounded by Rwandan soldiers, the report said. He said he was then handcuffed, couldn’t see anything and didn’t know where he was.
The Rwandan court said he was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting an earlier version of the police that said he was arrested through “international cooperation”.
Human Rights Watch has claimed that Rusesabagina “disappeared by force” and the lack of a lawful international extradition trial suggests that the Rwandan authorities do not believe their evidence will stand up to independent scrutiny.
Rusesabagina had asked to be released on bail, citing his poor health, which led to his being hospitalized three times since his arrest. He looked frail when he first appeared in court.
“I assure the court that I will not flee the judiciary,” said Rusesabagina in his earlier application for bail, which was denied. His court appearance on Friday was to appeal this denial.
The denial of bail further alarmed his family, which, along with some human rights and rights groups, has raised concerns that his arrest is the latest example of Rwanda cracking down on critics. “We have no hope that he will do fair justice in Rwanda and ask for his immediate release,” daughter Carine Kanimba said on social media earlier this month.
Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. For his efforts he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the years since he spoke out against alleged human rights violations by the Kagame government, he has been criticized by the Rwandan authorities.
Government supporters reject Rusesabagina’s criticism, saying Kagame’s leadership supports democracy and economic growth.