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Lawyers allege ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero faces risk of torture

Paul Rusesabagina appears in front of media at the headquarters of the Rwanda Bureau of investigations building in Kigali, Rwanda Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. 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)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The legal team for “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina has filed a complaint with the United Nations special rapporteur on torture asserting that Rusesabagina faces an “immediate risk” of cruel treatment as he remains cut off from lawyers, consular officials and his family more than a week after he appeared in handcuffs in Rwanda.

The complaint filed Monday with Nils Melzer asks for an immediate investigation to make sure Rusesabagina, long an outspoken critic of Rwanda’s government, “is still alive” after being accused of terrorism.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday indicated that Rusesabagina might have been tricked into boarding a plane to a country he hasn’t lived in since 1996. “It was actually flawless!” Kagame said in a national broadcast, suggesting that “he brought himself — even if he may not have intended it.”

The president did not say how Rusesabagina was taken from Dubai, where he last spoke with his family, to Rwanda. The family of the 66-year-old Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident, has said he would never knowingly board a plane for Rwanda and was “kidnapped.”

The legal complaint calls on the United Arab Emirates, which has not responded to requests for comment, to show it was “not complicit” by sharing “all evidence concerning Mr. Rusesabagina’s recent visit to Dubai, including video footage of him at the hotel and airport and all information available on the airplane that transported him to Kigali.”

Rwanda accuses Rusesabagina of leading a terrorist group that has killed Rwandans. It points to a video posted online in late 2018 in which he expresses support for an armed wing of his opposition political platform and says “the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed.”

Rusesabagina in the past has denied accusations that he financially supports Rwandan rebels, saying he is being targeted for criticizing Kagame’s administration over human rights abuses.

Rusesabagina became famous for protecting more than 1,000 people as a hotel manager during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. For his efforts he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

Rusesabagina’s detention has prompted concern among human rights activists that this was the latest example of the Rwandan government targeting critics beyond its borders.

His lack of contact with the outside world helped to prompt the legal complaint. On Tuesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it doesn’t have access to visit Rusesabagira in detention.

Kagame on Sunday said Rusesabagina “will have to pay for these crimes.” The complaint filed with the U.N. special rapporteur says that “elevates the risk of Mr. Rusesabagina being tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, as it provides police and prison authorities license to take justice into their own hands without the need for a legal process.”

A Rwandan lawyer over the weekend asserted he was representing Rusesabagina. The legal complaint rejects that, saying “it appears this lawyer was appointed without Mr. Rusesabagina’s consent — there is no way Mr. Rusesabagina would interview and voluntarily hire a lawyer without consulting with his own family first.”

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.