The terrorism trial of the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda has begun with his argument that a Rwandan court cannot try him because he is no longer a citizen and his assertion that he was kidnapped and is being held hostage.
The world has heard little from Paul Rusesabagina since he disappeared during a visit to Dubai in August and appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs, accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks.
His family says the 66-year-old, praised for saving ethnic Tutsis during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, has no chance at a fair trial because of his outspoken criticism of longtime Rwandan president Paul Kagame and human rights abuses.
They also fear he might die from poor health behind bars.
The circumstances around Rusesabagina’s arrest, his limited access to an independent legal team and his reported worsening health have drawn international concern for the Belgian citizen and US resident who left Rwanda in 1996.
The judge said on Wednesday that the court would consider Rusesabagina’s argument that it has no jurisdiction to try a non-citizen and announce its decision when the trial resumes on February 26.
Rwanda’s president shortly after Rusesabagina’s arrest hinted during a national address that he may have been tricked into boarding a private plane to Rwanda, a country where his family said he would never voluntarily visit again.
Rwanda’s government has said Rusesabagina will receive a fair trial.
He faces nine charges including the formation of an irregular armed group; membership in a terrorist group; financing terrorism; and murder, abduction and armed robbery as an act of terrorism. If convicted, he could face more than 20 years in prison.
“Let me say for the fifth time that I am Belgian and not Rwandan,” Rusesabagina told the court.
“I was kidnapped and brought to Rwanda and I am being held here hostage. Kidnap itself is a crime.”
He has in the past denied funding rebel groups.
Rusesabagina is credited with saving more than 1,000 people by sheltering them at the hotel he managed during the genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed.
Rwanda’s government has long asserted that Rusesabagina’s role in the genocide was exaggerated.