'Hotel Rwanda' hero faces trial as family fears for his life

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FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, file photo, Paul Rusesabagina, center, whose story inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda" for saving people from genocide, appears at the Kicukiro Primary Court in the capital Kigali, Rwanda. As the terrorism trial for Rusesabagina is set to start on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, his family says the critic of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame has no chance at a fair trial and might die from poor health behind bars. (AP Photo, File)

KIGALI – As the terrorism trial for Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” is set to start on Wednesday, his family says the critic of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame has no chance at a fair trial and might die from poor health behind bars.

Rusesabagina, praised for saving ethnic Tutsis during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was arrested last year in Rwanda after mysteriously disappearing during a visit to Dubai. Rwanda accuses him of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks.

The circumstances around the 66-year-old 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 U.S. resident. His family this month said they spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a conversation the State Department described as one with “families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.”

“This is a charade,” one of Rusesabagina’s daughters, Carine Kanimba, told The Associated Press ahead of the trial. “They kidnapped him. It is the violation of due process and international law. He should be released immediately and unconditionally.” She alleged that Rwanda has fabricated evidence against her father.

Rwanda’s president after Rusesabagina’s arrest hinted during a national address that he may have been tricked into boarding a private plane in August to Rwanda, where he was paraded in handcuffs in a country where his family said he would never voluntarily visit again.

The Rwandan court has contradicted the original police account that said Rusesabagina was arrested with “international cooperation,” instead saying he was arrested at Kigali International Airport in the capital.

The family also worries about what they call Rusesabagina’s weakening condition. His outside legal team late last month asserted that his prescribed medication for a heart disorder was being withheld, and his locally provided lawyer has said Rusesabagina told him he fears he will die of a stroke.

The European Parliament last week adopted a resolution calling for Rwanda to give Rusesabagina a fair trial and condemning what it called his enforced disappearance, illegal rendition to Rwanda and incommunicado detention.