In Brussels, Mr. Rusesabagina began to feel unsafe. Intruders broke into his home twice, his children said, rifling drawers and stealing documents. When a car drove him off the road, he took it as an assassination attempt, they said.
In 2009, Mr. Rusesabagina and his wife moved to a gated community in San Antonio, Texas, near the home of an ally — Bob Krueger, a former United States Senator and ambassador to Burundi, whom he had befriended.
Even then, Mr. Kagame continued to court the stars of “Hotel Rwanda.” In June 2010, he sent his helicopter to bring Mr. Cheadle to northern Rwanda for a gorrilla-naming ceremony, part of a lauded conservation effort.
At a dinner afterward with the president, Mr. Cheadle recalled, there was no mention of Mr. Rusesabagina.
The Long Arm of Kagame
death of Patrick Karegeya, a former Rwandan spy chief and critic of Mr. Kagame found strangled in a South African hotel room on Jan. 1, 2014, signaled yet again how far the president was prepared to go to quash dissent.
In at least six countries, Rwandan exiles have been harassed, assaulted or killed, as part of an apparent covert campaign targeting Mr. Kagame’s most nettlesome detractors. Some were accused of having participated in the genocide. Others, like Mr. Karegeya, had been confidantes and even friends of Mr. Kagame.
In Belgium, a fugitive politician was found floating in a canal. In Kenya, a former minister was shot dead in his car. In Britain, police warned two dissidents they faced an “imminent threat” from Rwanda’s government. In South Africa, a former army chief was shot in the stomach but survived.
Western officials often looked the other way. “They are immensely special because of what happened in the past,” Andrew Mitchell, a former British development minister,
said in 2015. “It engenders cutting them more slack.”
Inside Rwanda, critics were also vanishing or dying mysteriously.
In 2014 Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer, was accused of treason over a song that drew attention to the death of all Rwandans, including moderate Hutus, since 1994 — challenging an official narrative of a “Tutsi genocide.”
In February Mr. Mihigo, 38,
was found dead in police custody.
Credit… Alexander Joe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Kagame’s reputation was further tarnished by a
2010 report from the United Nations human rights body that accused Rwandan soldiers and allied militias of widespread rape, killings of tens of thousands of civilians, and recruitment of child soldiers in eastern Congo — charges that infuriated Mr. Kagame, but earned him an unusually public rebuke from President Obama in 2012.
In 2010, a Rwandan prosecutor
repeated the claim that Mr. Rusesabagina had wired funds to Congo-based rebels. The FBI and Belgian authorities questioned him but took no action, his family said.
In the United States, Mr. Cheadle met Mr. Kagame at a dinner party hosted by a mutual acquaintance. The friend, whom Mr. Cheadle declined to identify, later pitched the actor on a second Hotel Rwanda film, this time casting Mr. Rusesabagina in an unfavorable light. Mr. Cheadle was incredulous.
“I said, ‘You want me to play the same character in a movie I was nominated for an Oscar for, to say that movie was horseshit, and now I’m doing the real movie? I’m probably not going to do that.’”
In January 2018, months after Mr. Kagame had been re-elected with 99 percent of the vote, Mr. Rusesabagina tried to enlist a second American president to his cause.
“I request your support in liberating Rwandan people,” he wrote President Trump. Since 1994, he said, “nothing has changed” in Rwanda.
Bringing Change “By Any Means Possible”
In June and July 2018, gunmen carried out a spate of attacks on remote villages in the Nyungwe forest, inside Rwanda’s southern border with Burundi.
The deadliest hit Nyabimata, a hamlet of steep slopes and banana trees, on the night of June 19.
Three people were killed, including Fidel Munyaneza, a primary schoolteacher. His wife, Josephine, said he had been shot in the back.
Credit… Cyril Ndegeya for The New York Times
The Rwandan authorities blamed the attack on the National Liberation Forces — the armed wing of a Rwandan opposition coalition that, at the time, was led by Paul Rusesabagina.
Months later, Mr. Rusesabaginadelivered the video address that spoke of change “by any means possible,” which Rwanda’s government calls proof of his guilt.
From jail, he said he did not remember making such a video.
A Mysterious Flight to Kigali
When he boarded a flight from Chicago to Dubai on Aug. 26, Mr. Rusesabagina provided his family with scant details. “Meetings,” he said.
The pandemic had separated him from his wife,
stranded in Brussels since February. He hadn’t been able to visit a newborn grandchild near Boston.
But this trip was apparently worth it.
Mr. Rusesabagina spent just six hours in Dubai . At the city’s second, smaller airport he boarded a private jet that he believed was headed to Bujumbura, Burundi.
In fact, the plane was operated by GainJet, a Greece-based charter company frequently used by Mr. Kagame. It landed just before dawn on Aug. 28 in Kigali, where Mr. Rusesabagina was promptly arrested.
“He delivered himself here,” said Rwanda’s spy chief, Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, with a smile. “Quite a wonderful operation.”
If that operation was straight out of the Kagame playbook — dissidents say a private jet flew another opposition leader from the Comoro Islands to Rwanda last year — the nature of the bait used to entrap Rwanda’s latest victim was unclear.
Mr. Rusesabagina said he had been invited to Burundi by a pastor, Constantin Niyomwungeri, who invited him to speak at his churches. The pastor could not be reached for comment. Rwandan officials say Mr. Rusesabagina’s true purpose was to coordinate with armed groups based in Burundi and Congo.
Mr. Rusesabagina seemed determined in the jailhouse interview to maintain his customary unruffled demeanor. But he could be evasive and contradictory. He spent the first three days of captivity at an unknown location, blindfolded and bound, where he was interrogated “not much,” he said.
Credit… Cyril Ndegeya for The New York Times
Human Rights Watch
says his arrest violates international law, even if he was duped into voluntarily boarding the flight from Dubai.
General Nzabamwita dismissed any suggestion of illegality because, he said, the United States and Belgium had been cooperating with his investigation all along. In fact, he added, the head of Belgian intelligence and the C.I.A. station chief in Kigali had personally congratulated him on the arrest.
“They were only surprised how we could conduct such an operation, and very successfully,” he said.
American and Belgian officials denied the general’s assertion. In an email, a spokesman for Belgium’s SGRS intelligence service said its head, Claude Van de Voorde, had “NEVER congratulated the Rwandan authorities” on the arrest.
Embracing — and Fearing — the Truth
In “Hotel Rwanda” Mr. Rusesabagina is depicted as a wheeler-dealer who used cigars and flattery to talk his way out of the deadliest trouble. Now, confined to a jail cell five miles away, those are not options.
Supporters, both in Hollywood and the Rwandan opposition, argue that he cannot receive a fair trial. “They will do everything to keep him in jail,” said Faustin Twagiramungu, a former prime minister of Rwanda and political ally of Mr. Rusesabagina.
Mr. Rusesabagina, for his part, insisted that his group was “not a terrorist organization,” even if its components include an armed group.
Its objective, he said, was to highlight the plight of “millions” of Rwandan refugees and exiles, like him, who remain trapped outside the country, more than a quarter century after the genocide.
“We wanted to wake up the international community, foreign countries and Rwanda itself,” he said, “To remind them that we also exist.”
Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Kigali and Nairobi, Declan Walsh from Cairo, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels and Athens, and Ruth Maclean from Dakar, Senegal. Julian Barnes contributed reporting from Washington. The article was written by Mr. Walsh.
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