Family of ‘Hotel Rwanda hero’ calls on United States, EU and Belgium to help free him


The family of Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotelier portrayed as a hero in a film about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, on Thursday called on the United States, the European Union and Belgium to appeal for his release from prison in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, a political dissident who lived in exile in Belgium and the United States, was charged with terrorism and other offences last month after he returned to Rwanda and was arrested in August.

His case has attracted widespread international attention partly because his story of protecting Tutsi guests during the genocide was made into a popular Hollywood film.

Rusesabagina, who says he was tricked into returning to Rwanda, has been denied his choice of defence lawyers, his family and their lawyer told an online news conference. Instead, Rusesabagina’s defence team was appointed by the government of Rwanda.

“This is unprecedented,” said Peter Robinson, an American lawyer who has previously defended people accused at the International Criminal Court and international war crimes tribunals for Rwanda. “They are preventing Paul from being defended by lawyers of his choice.”

The foreign ministry and the justice ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Robinson said the family had appointed him and six other lawyers to defend Rusesabagina. But their local lawyer — one of the six – has not been permitted to see Rusesabagina and his government-appointed lawyers have not communicated with Rusesabagina’s family, he said.

Robinson urged the United States, Belgium and European Union to put pressure on the Rwandan government to free Rusesabagina, who is a Belgian citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States. He received the United States’ highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.

Rwanda has said that Rusesabagina’s trial will be quick, fair and public. But his family want him freed.

“We ask Belgium to protect its citizen and bring him home as quickly as possible,” Rusesabagina’s youngest daughter Carine Kanimba, said. Rusesabagina’s eldest daughter Lys Rusesabagina appealed for her father to stand trial in Belgium.

Rusesabagina told The New York Times during an interview conducted after his arrest that he had been tricked into boarding a private jet he thought was bound for Burundi and arrested when it touched down in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina has been charged with crimes including terrorism, financing terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder. He has told a court that he backed opposition groups but denied any role in violence. On Friday, a Rwandan court will rule on Rusesabagina’s appeal against the denial of bail.

“My dad is surrounded by people who want him to fall, from the gunmen around him to his lawyers pretending to defend him. He is fighting alone out there,” Rusesabagina’s son Tresor Rusesabagina said.