The family of Paul Rusesabagina, the man made famous by the feature film Hotel Rwanda, which chronicled how he saved 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has sued the Rwandan government, alleging that he was kidnapped, tortured, and illegally imprisoned, NPR reports.
Rwandan officials are said to have kidnapped the 67-year-old in Dubai in August 2020. Rusesabagina was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Rwandan court in September.
Rusesabagina is U.S. permanent resident and has Belgian citizenship. Human rights groups have condemned the charges against him as “flawed.”
According to the lawsuit, which seeks $400 million, Rwandan officials admitted to a scheme to entice Rusesabagina away from his home in San Antonio, Texas, “with false promises of contractual work in Burundi.”
The lawsuit claims that during a layover in Burundi in August 2020, Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s security agents drugged Rusesabagina and took him back to Rwanda, where he was tortured and illegally imprisoned.
His family says Kagame targeted Rusesabagina because he publicly accused the president of war crimes and human rights violations.
According to the BBC, Rusesabagina led a political opposition with an armed wing known as the National Liberation Front (FLN) from exile in Belgium. In a 2018 video message, Rusesabagina stated that “the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda.”
The FLN allegedly carried out attacks that same year, killing nine people. Although Rusesabagina acknowledged financial support for the group, he has denied any involvement in the targeting of civilians. Rusesabagina was convicted on those charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021.
Rusesabagina’s conviction has been condemned by the U.S. government and human rights organizations. The U.S. State Department said it was “concerned” about Rusesabagina’s “lack of confidential, unimpeded access to his lawyers and relevant case documents and his initial lack of access to counsel.”
Human Rights Watch said, “The conviction of the Rwandan critic and political opponent Paul Rusesabagina comes after a flawed trial that is emblematic of the government’s overreach and manipulation of the justice system.”
Rusesabagina became internationally acclaimed for his heroism when he was manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in the city of Kigali. He turned the hotel into a safe haven during the 1994 Rwandan genocide when an estimated 800,000 people from the Tutsis ethnic group were slaughtered by extremists from the Hutus ethnic group.
The story was chronicled in the 2004 Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina.