Paul Rusesabagina, the Hotel Rwanda film hero who is being held in a Kigali police cell after a clandestine arrest and transfer from Dubai, is facing up to 14 criminal charges lined up against him by the Rwandan government.
While the Rwanda Prosecution Authority is yet to release a charge sheet detailing the accusations, The EastAfrican has learnt that four of the charges he faces are related to terrorism, terror activities, arson, and inciting violence.
The alleged crimes are linked to his position as chair of the Mouvement Rwandaise pour le Changement Democratique (MRCD), a coalition of exiled armed opposition groups formed in July 2017 with a base in Minembwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr Rusesabagina, 66, shot to international fame when he was depicted as a hero in the film Hotel Rwanda, for his role in saving more than a thousand people from being killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.
He has not been in Rwanda for two decades.
He was paraded in handcuffs before the media in Kigali on August 31, with investigators saying that he was taken into custody on the strength of an international arrest warrant issued in November 2018.
The United Arab Emirates has denied any involvement in his arrest, saying he left Dubai legally last Friday on a private jet bound for Rwanda; his family claimed he had been kidnapped.
In an interview with The EastAfrican from his police cell, Mr Rusesabagina declined to discuss his arrest and transfer to Kigali.
Plot against the government
His political party — PDR-Ihumure’s military wing — Force de Liberation Nationale (FLN) is specifically accused of waging war on Rwanda in a bid to depose President Paul Kagame and his government.
The FLN rebel group is based in eastern DRC, but has lately been weakened after the arrest of its commanders Calixte Nsabimana in April 2019, and Herman Nsengimana in January.
The FLN, alongside other rebel groups such as the FDLR, were also dealt major blows when the Congolese forces held a military operation in eastern DRC last year, where they are based, and killed many in their ranks.
Mr Rusesabagina will also be charged with murder on several counts and abduction, prosecutorial sources told The EastAfrican.
These primarily relate to the violent incursions that have gripped southern Rwanda in the past few years.
In June 2018, suspected FLN rebels attacked Nyabimata sector in Nyaruguru district, killing three and torching a local leader’s vehicle.
The region around Nyungwe Forest is a high-end tourism destination for Rwanda.
In October 2019, an attack in Kinigi, the home of the mountain gorillas adjacent to Volcanoes National Park, led to the death of eight people and 14 were injured.
That same day, a grenade attack in Rusizi District in the southeast of Rwanda injured four people.
Mr Rusesabagina will also be charged with several counts of murder, arson and abduction, most of which occurred in Nyungwe and Nyabimata.
The attack at Nyabimata, Nyaruguru District, on June 19, 2018, killed two people and injured three others, including the Executive Secretary of Nyabimata Sector, Vincent Nsengiyumva.
According to the Rwandan government, the attackers looted people’s properties and burned Mr Nsengiyumva’s car.
In several video announcements in 2018 and 2019, Mr Rusesabagina said that he would become a political activist against “the Kagame regime” and that he was taking up a military struggle to “liberate the people of Rwanda”.
“My role as a humanitarian exposed many malicious practices by a regime that inflicted too much pain among the people of Rwanda and that of the whole Great Lakes region of Africa. I publicly declare that I have decided to combine humanitarian and political action to liberate the people of Rwanda from the RPF dictatorship,” he said four years ago while taking over the chairmanship of MRCD. The coalition includes CNRD-Ubwiyunge, the FDLR splinter group, Rwanda Revolutionary Movement, and the Rwanda National Congress.
In 2018, he announced the formation of an armed rebel wing, FLN, in a New Year video address.
“Rwandan people can no longer stand the quality and all kinds of ill-treatment directed to us by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) regime. 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,” he said.
“It is time to attempt our last resort, hence I plead my unreserved resort that our youth, the National Liberation Forces (NLF) launches attacks against the Kagame army in order to free the Rwandan people.”
The Rwanda Investigative Bureau is building up evidence for his case file, which they are by law supposed to submit to the prosecution authority within five days from the day of his arrest.
Prosecutors also have five days to review the evidence and file a court case or request for provisional detention, while he also has the same time to prepare his defence.
The court ruling on his provisional detention is supposed to be made within three working days, according to the Criminal Procedure Law of 2019.
If he is denied bail, provisional detention is valid for 30 days, subject to renewal up to a limit of six times.
He risks a long jail term if found guilty for the crimes he is being accused of.
Murder attracts life imprisonment, while terrorism attracts 20 to 25 years, and arson would result in one year in jail.
Mr Rusesabagina’s trial is expected to attract international attention due to his celebrity status. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President George Bush in 2005, and was also the recipient of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize from The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.