Family of detained 'Hotel Rwanda' hero seeks Belgium's help

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FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004 file photo, Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film "Hotel Rwanda," poses with actress Angelina Jolie at the premiere of the film at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. Rusesabagina, who was portrayed in the film "Hotel Rwanda" as a hero who saved the lives of more than 1,200 people from the country's 1994 genocide, and is a well-known critic of President Paul Kagame, has been arrested by the Rwandan government on terror charges, police announced on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

JOHANNESBURG – A daughter of the man portrayed in the film “Hotel Rwanda" said Wednesday that his family has met with Belgian officials about contacting Paul Rusesabagina in jail after Rwandan authorities paraded him in handcuffs this week but gave no details about how he had been apprehended overseas.

“They’re going to try to ensure he’s still breathing,” Rusesabagina's daughter Carine Kanimba told The Associated Press from Washington. ”The first and most important thing is ensuring he’s being treated well and then we will do everything in our power, with the help of the Belgian government, to bring him home.”

She said her mother met with Belgian authorities in Brussels on Wednesday. Rusesabagina’s family has expressed fears that the U.S. permanent resident and Belgian citizen was “kidnapped” during a visit to Dubai last week. They have called the terrorism accusations against him fabricated.

Earlier Wednesday, Belgium foreign ministry spokeswoman Marie Cherchari said Rwandan authorities had informed Brussels of Rusesabagina's detention and “Belgium was not in any way implicated in his arrest.” She said the country didn't have many details “but we are following developments closely.”

Separately, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, tweeted that he had met with the Rwandan ambassador to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, to discuss the arrest. “The United States expects the Rwandan government to provide humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law and provide a fair and transparent legal process,” Nagy said.

And the United Nations human rights office said it expects the rights of Rusesabagina, an outspoken government critic, will be respected “notwithstanding the serious allegations” against him.

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.”

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

Rusesabagina's detention prompted concern among human rights activists that this was the latest example of the Rwandan government targeting critics beyond its borders. The government has not said how he was taken to the East African nation, where he has not lived since 1996. It cited “international cooperation” without giving details.

U.N. rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said in a statement to AP that the office is following developments around Rusesabagina closely, and “we also understand that he has some health issues. It is vital to ensure that he has access to appropriate health care as well as to his family and legal representatives.”

His family has said they have not been able to speak with him and they worry the 66-year-old might not be getting his hypertension medication.

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.

In a new statement, the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change called on the international community to help Rusesabagina “defend himself before independent courts” and have the right to freely choose his lawyers.

“The Rwandan state and its accomplices in the kidnapping of Mr. Paul Rusesabagina must be prosecuted by international justice,” the statement said.


Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg reported this story from Dallas, Texas, and AP writer Cara Anna reported in Johannesburg. AP writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Ignatius Ssuuna in Kigali, Rwanda, and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.