Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration behind Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda has been arrested on charges of terrorism, according to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau.
Rusesabagina became a global icon after he sheltered 1,200 Rwandans in Kigali's Milles Collines hotel in 1994 during the Rwandan Genocide. Don Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar after playing him in the film which centered on his life.
But over the past few decades, he has become an outspoken critic of Paul Kagame, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2000. Despite leading the armed force that ended the genocide in 1994, Kagame has been called one of the most repressive leaders in Africa and in recent years has made it a point to criminalize any dissent. He arrested his opponent in the 2017 presidential election and claimed to win 99% of the vote.
Human Rights Watch has a lengthy list of people Kagame has either had arrested or killed. His forces have long sought to detain Rusesabagina, who has lived in Belgium and the United States since the late 1990s due to fear of being arrested for his criticisms about Kagame. Rusesabagina has repeatedly called for Kagame's removal, according to The New York Times.
On Monday, the Rwandan government paraded the 66-year-old in handcuffs on television and held a press conference accusing him of "terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder."
Kitty Kurth, a spokeswoman for Rusesabagina's Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, criticized the charges in a statement to The New York Times.
“We believe he was kidnapped and taken by extraordinary rendition to Rwanda. He is a regular critic of human rights violations in Rwanda, and the Rwandan government regularly brings false charges against all critics in order to try to silence them,” Kurth said.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau released a lengthy Twitter thread on the arrest and said Rusesabagina was detained with "international cooperation."
2. 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.
— Rwanda Investigation Bureau (@RIB_Rw) August 31, 2020
The government accused political parties supported by Rusesabagina, the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change and the Party for Democracy in Rwanda, of trying to overthrow the state and implicated him in a number of murders over the past few years.
They did not release any evidence of his alleged crimes.
“The growing list of human rights defenders, journalists, civic activists, opposition members and critics of Kagame, like Rusesabagina, who have been arrested, or otherwise killed or disappeared, is truly staggering,” said Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of nonprofit Vanguard Africa, in an interview with The New York Times.
“What Kagame and Rwanda’s ruling party have effectively done is to make the argument, both in rhetoric and in practice, that criticism, resistance or opposition to their rule amounts to terrorism,” Smith added.
Thierry Murangira, spokesman for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, refused to say which country extradited him but Rusesabagina's son and daughter said they last spoke to him on Thursday as he was flying through Dubai.
"That is the last time we talked to him, that is the last time we heard from him and ever since that it has just been silence," his son Trésor Rusesabagina told CNN.
"Having a thought is a crime in some places, being your own man is a crime in some places, my father is guilty of having the guts to speak up. This is political, of course it is. These are the games they play," he added.
Both CNN and Reuters contacted the United Arab Emirates but did not receive an answer as to whether Rusesabagina had been arrested and extradited there.
Asked which countries helped in the arrest of Rusesabagina, Dr Thierry Murangira, the acting @RIB_Rw spokesman declined to mention them and explained that such information could jeopardise investigations.
"All others will be arrested. No one can kill Rwandans & go scot free" pic.twitter.com/G89dkEFwD8
— The New Times (Rwanda) (@NewTimesRwanda) August 31, 2020
Murangira said Rusesabagina “is suspected to be the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits,” and criticized his political party for allegedly participating in killings.
The Washington Post reported Kagame and his officials tried to arrest Rusesabagina in 2010 but were unable to catch him. Rusesabagina has a home in Belgium as well as in Texas. Former President George Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Rusesabagina was originally lauded by the Rwandan government and diplomats around the world for his good deeds during the genocide. But when he announced he was forming his own political party in the early 2000s, he immediately fell out of favor with the government and a "smear campaign" began, according to Hotel Rwanda director Terry George.
For years, Kagame and other Rwandan officials have accused Rusesabagina of supporting armed groups trying to attack the country from neighboring nations.
According to Reuters, Rusesabagina released a 2018 YouTube video calling for people to rise up against Kagame.
“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. Rwandan people can no longer stand the cruelty,” Rusesabagina said in the video, according to Reuters.
Other Rwandan leaders have defended Rusesabagina's comments, saying Kagame and the international community have left opposition politicians with no other way to try and remove the dictator.
“It is not because we don’t like democracy or western countries, but we feel we have been abandoned,” exiled former Rwandan prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu told Reuters.