The man portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood movie about the Rwandan genocide has told a court at the start of his terrorism trial that he is being held illegally.
Paul Rusesabagina told the High Court in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali:
Quote Message: I am not Rwandan, I am a Belgian hostage. I was kidnapped and even now I am held hostage.”
Mr Rusesabagina – an ethnic Hutu who became well known after the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda which depicted his efforts a decade earlier during the genocide to save hundreds of Tutsis at a hotel where he was a manager – was arrested in August 2020 after landing in the United Arab Emirates.
He was taken back to Rwanda to face various charges including terrorism, kidnap and murder – and is on trial with 20 other suspects.
None of them were able to enter their pleas to the charges as the hearing was dominated by Mr Rusesabagina’s insistence that his nationality had not been taken into account and that his arrest and transfer to Rwanda were unlawful.
Mr Rusesabagina said that in 1996 he had handed in his Rwandan ID documents when he arrived and sought asylum in Belgium, and never claimed his Rwandan nationality back.
The prosecution said that Mr Rusesabagina had not proved that he had legally denounced his Rwandan nationality, so was still regarded as Rwandan.
Prosecutor Bonaventure Ruberwa argued that in 2018 Rwanda issued an international arrest warrant that led to his arrest on terrorism charges.
Mr Rusesabagina, 66, is a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame and has become involved in opposition politics in exile.
The circumstances of his arrest in Dubai last August are still unclear. He has said that his intention was to get a connecting flight to Burundi.
Human Rights Watch, the EU Parliament and a group of US senators have all condemned Mr Rusesabagina’s arrest and rendition.
But the Rwandan parliament insists he must be held accountable for deadly attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 by the FLN, the armed wing of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a coalition of opposition parties which he heads.
The trial resumes on Friday 26 February.