Rights group asserts 'Hotel Rwanda' hero was forcibly taken

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FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005 file photo provided by the White House, President Bush, left, and first lady Laura Bush, 2nd right, meet with Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana in the Oval Office. Rusesabagina, who inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda" for saving people from genocide and who is now accused of terrorism in Rwanda, has spoken to his family for the first time since being paraded in handcuffs on Aug. 31, 2020. (Eric Draper/The White House via AP)

JOHANNESBURG – Paul Rusesabagina sounded strained. The man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” for saving people from genocide but is now accused of terrorism in Rwanda was speaking to his family for the first time since being paraded in handcuffs on Aug. 31. But something was wrong.

With Rwandan authorities listening in, it was clear Rusesabagina wasn’t allowed to speak openly on the phone call, said Brian Endless, part of the international team trying to defend him.

It remains a mystery how Rusesabagina disappeared from a trip to Dubai late last month and appeared in custody in a country his family says he would never return to voluntarily.

“Paul briefly mentioned boarding a plane on the call, but this was strained and he cut off the discussion immediately after. We have no idea if this was Paul speaking freely or coerced,” Endless told The Associated Press. In comments to the BBC, he said Rusesabagina mentioned waking up on the plane to find himself in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

Endless said Rwandan officials also attended a meeting between Belgian officials and Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident.

The uncertainties around his arrest have led Human Rights Watch to assert that the 66-year-old Rusesabagina, long an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government, was “forcibly disappeared.” In a statement released late Thursday, the organization said Rwandan authorities should urgently explain how he was apprehended and taken to the East African country.

“The fact that Rwanda did not pursue Rusesabagina through lawful extradition proceedings suggests the authorities do not believe their evidence or fair trial guarantees would stand up to scrutiny before an independent tribunal, and so opted to circumvent the rule of law,” the group’s Central Africa director, Lewis Mudge, said.

Rusesabagina’s legal team, which has not been able to speak with him, believes he boarded a private plane operated by GainJet, which has been used by the Rwandan government and has an office in the capital, Kigali. The legal team points to publicly available flight records.