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Paul Rusesabagina, of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ fame, arrested on terrorism charges

Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed in the film “Hotel Rwanda,” visited Washington in January 2016 to promote democracy and human rights in Rwanda. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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NAIROBI — Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism during the 1994 genocide in his native Rwanda was portrayed by Don Cheadle in the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda," was arrested Monday and charged with terrorism, arson, kidnapping and murder, according to the state-run Rwanda Investigation Bureau.

In the story told by the 2004 film, Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, uses his influence and wealth to first shelter hundreds hiding from bloodthirsty mobs that ultimately killed nearly a million people. Then he secures their safe haven by persuading military officials to arrange their escape.

In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

In the years following the film’s release, Rusesabagina became more vocal in his criticism of Paul Kagame, the former commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which ended the genocide. Kagame became the country’s de facto leader after the genocide and then president in 2000. His government has stifled independent media and political opposition, often linking dissent with genocide denial, a deeply taboo topic in the country.

A statement issued by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau said Rusesabagina, 66, was arrested in Kigali in cooperation with unidentified international law enforcement agencies. In tracking down dissidents, Rwanda has often taken its time and sought the help of other countries, such as South Africa.

According to the Investigation Bureau’s announcement, Rusesabagina “is suspected to be the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits,” including splinter groups of those who committed the genocide more than a quarter-century ago and allegedly operate out of neighboring Burundi and Congo.

“No one can take the lives of Rwandans and get away with it,” the bureau’s spokesman, Thierry Murangira, said at a news conference Monday.

Similar allegations against Rusesabagina emerged in 2011, but he was not formally charged. He has lived in exile in the United States and Belgium in recent years, citing the threat of arrest.

In a 2006 op-ed in The Washington Post, Terry George, director and producer of “Hotel Rwanda,” wrote of Rusesabagina’s rise and fall in the eyes of the Rwandan state.

“When the film was released, Rusesabagina was acknowledged as a hero not just by ordinary people across the United States and Europe but also by diplomats, politicians, journalists and Rwandan officials in diplomatic posts here,” George wrote. After news began spreading that Rusesabagina intended to form a political party, however, a “smear campaign” began, the filmmaker wrote.

Just a few months after the film was screened in front of thousands in Kigali’s biggest stadium, Kagame called Rusesabagina a “manufactured hero.”

“He should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it’s totally false,” the president said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Kagame has served as president since the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He became president in 2000. The story has been updated.