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Hotel Rwanda Hero Goes on Trial

Paul Rusesabagina says he was kidnapped
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2021 1:49 PM CST

(Newser) – One Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient died on Wednesday. Another one, the businessman whose story became the movie Hotel Rwanda, went on trial on terrorism charges. Paul Rusesabagina, a founder of the pro-democracy opposition group Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, is accused of offenses including murder and membership of a terrorist organization, the New York Times reports. The group's armed wing is accused of carrying out attacks along the border. The trial, which started in the capital, Kigali, Wednesday, has been denounced by human rights groups and members of Congress. As manager of a Kigali hotel during the 1994 genocide, Rusesabagina saved more than 1,200 Hutu and Tutsi refugees, but he went into exile in 1996, saying he feared for his life. He was honored by George W. Bush in 2005.

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Relatives say the 66-year-old Rusesabagina, a prominent critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, has been held in solitary confinement and is in poor health. "We don’t expect a fair trial," daughter Carine Kanimba tells the Guardian. Rusesabagina is now a Belgian citizen and has permanent residency in the US. Relatives say he was kidnapped while visiting Dubai last year and was brought to Rwanda. The case is seen as part of Kagame's effort to crack down on dissent, including among exiles, reports the Wall Street Journal. Rusesabagina told the court Wednesday that it didn't have the jurisdiction to try him. "I am Belgian and not Rwandan," he said, per the AP. "I was kidnapped and brought to Rwanda and I am being held here hostage. Kidnap itself is a crime." The judge said the argument over jurisdiction will be considered, with a decision expected on Feb. 26. (Read more Rwanda stories.)

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