The family of Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotel manager who sheltered people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has appealed to the European Union, Belgium and America to help free him from jail in Rwanda.
The political dissident, who lived in exile in Belgium (now a Belgian citizen) and the United States, is facing 13 charges including financing terrorism, complicity in murder, recruiting child soldiers, and forming a rebel group after he returned to Rwanda and was arrested in August.
He co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition party based abroad which has an armed wing known as the National Liberation Front (FLN). The FLN has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the Nyungwe forest in 2018 that saw the loss of several lives and the destruction of property, according to Reuters.
Rusesabagina, 66, who told the New York Times that he was tricked into returning to Rwanda, has been denied bail and a defense team of his choice, his family said. His defense team was appointed by the Rwandan government, his family added.
“We ask Belgium to protect its citizen and bring him home as quickly as possible,” Rusesabagina’s youngest daughter Carine Kanimba said while his eldest daughter Lys Rusesabagina appealed for her father to stand trial in Belgium, according to AFP.
“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 also said.
In his first appearance in court, Rusesabagina admitted he helped found the National Liberation Front but denied that he supported violence or killings. According to him, the NLF was formed to help Rwanda refugees.
“We formed the FLN as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group as the prosecution keeps saying. I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” the AFP quoted him as saying.
“The agreement we signed to form MRCD as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called FLN. But my work was under the political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy,” he added.
Rusesabagina’s case has attracted global attention due to his story of protecting ethnic Tutsis who sought shelter in his hotel during the genocide that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. He received the United States’ highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.
He is a Belgian citizen and permanently resident in the United States.