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Hotel Rwanda hero denied access to lawyer

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Supporters of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed in Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, say the Rwandan authorities have denied him access to a lawyer, a week after he was paraded in handcuffs and accused of “terrorism”.

In a statement on Saturday, the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation said Rusesabagina, a United States permanent resident and Belgian citizen, has had no consular visits.

The foundation also rejected the Rwandan government’s claim that the outspoken government critic had talked to his sons about a potential visit as “not true”.

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“Paul’s wife has called the jail and has not been allowed to talk to him,” it added.

The family believes he was “kidnapped” during a visit to Dubai and that he would never knowingly have boarded a plane for Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. He has lived outside the East African nation since 1996.

Rusesabagina was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as a hotel manager during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

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Rwandan authorities have not responded to questions about how and where Rusesabagina was apprehended, and have not publicly shared any international arrest warrant. They have referred to “international cooperation” but given no details.

“There is a deliberate effort to sanitise and present Rusesabagina as a victim,” the state-run Rwandan newspaper The New Times said in an editorial on Saturday.

The editorial rejected allegations he was arrested because of his criticism of the government.

Rwandan authorities have granted what they called an “exclusive” interview with Rusesabagina to a Kenyan newspaper, The East African, in which he said he had been treated with “kindness” but did not discuss the accusations against him or how he was apprehended.

It is not clear when Rusesabagina will appear in court. Rwandan law says a suspect can be in provisional detention for 15 days, renewable for up to 90 days.

The Rwandan government has said it issued an arrest warrant for Rusesabagina to answer charges of serious crimes including “terrorism”, arson, kidnap and murder perpetrated against unarmed civilians.

Police called him the suspected “founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits including the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change” (MRDC).

Rwanda points to a video posted online in 2018 in which Rusesabagina says “it is imperative that in 2019 we speed up the liberation struggle of the Rwandan people … 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”.

The MRCD has an armed wing, the National Liberation Front (NLF), that has been accused of attacks inside Rwanda in 2018 and 2019. Rwanda arrested NLF spokesman Callixte Nsabimana last year.

Rusesabagina in the past has denied charges that he financially supports Rwandan rebels, saying he is being targeted for criticising the administration of President Paul Kagame over human rights abuses.

Rusesabagina’s detention has prompted concern among human rights activists, who call it the latest example of the Rwandan government targeting critics beyond its borders.

The US government has said it expects the Rwandan government to provide “humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law and provide a fair and transparent legal process” for Rusesabagina.—Al Jazeera

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