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A Look At Updates In 'Hotel Rwanda' Hero Paul Rusesabagina's Arrest

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An update now on the man whose heroism inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda." Paul Rusesabagina protected Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rwandan authorities arrested him this month and charged him with 13 offenses, including murder and terrorism. Journalist Anjan Sundaram is following the case and joins us now. Mr. Sundaram, thanks so much for being with us.

ANJAN SUNDARAM: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What is Mr. Rusesabagina being charged with by Rwandan officials?

SUNDARAM: So there's a slew of charges, but most significant is the Rwandan government's assertion that he is trying to topple President Kagame. And in general, any opposition to President Kagame has almost been like a death sentence for most politicians or opposition candidates. Many of them have ended up dead, in prison, sometimes beheaded.

SIMON: Mr. Rusesabagina told The New York Times that he was essentially lured to Rwanda out of exile and arrested. He thought he was on his way to Burundi at the invitation of a pastor. What do you know about that?

SUNDARAM: Yeah. There's conflicting reports, but the human rights organizations that I follow seem to indicate that Rusesabagina was essentially kidnapped, it was an enforced disappearance, that he did not intend to go to Rwanda. I've met Mr. Rusesabagina, and I know he was well aware of the threat that the Rwandan government posed to him. And it's hard for me to imagine that he would fly to Rwanda voluntarily, knowing that it would be a dangerous journey.

SIMON: He's been accused of forming the National Liberation Front, which I gather from reporting has, in fact, carried out armed attacks and is classified as a terrorist organization by the Rwandan government. Does Paul Rusesabagina have any relationship with the National Liberation Front?

SUNDARAM: He's spoken positively about them in the past. And I think it's unfortunate that when the National Liberation Front conducted some violent attacks in Rwanda that Mr. Rusesabagina did not more vocally condemn that loss of civilian life. But I think in general, what he's looking for is to ask Kagame and to - essentially, he's calling for a restoration of democratic rule in Rwanda.

SIMON: You wrote a book, "Bad News: Last Journalists In A Dictatorship," about President Kagame's crackdown on reporters in Rwanda. How has that affected what people in Rwanda know about what's going on, how they receive this news? How has it affected democracy?

SUNDARAM: President Kagame has basically destroyed the free press. He's destroyed all democratic institutions in Rwanda. And so it's very difficult for the ordinary Rwandan to access credible independent information. What they hear is what the government tells them is the official line.

SIMON: Mr. Sundaram, do you expect a real trial?

SUNDARAM: No. Of course not. Mr. Rusesabagina is not the first opposition activist to Kagame to be arrested and brought to trial in Rwanda. You had Victoire Ingabire in 2010. And even before her trial began, the local press smeared her for all sorts of misogynistic accusations. She was described as an enemy of the state, much as Mr. Rusesabagina is facing now.

SIMON: Rusesabagina is a figure - large figure in the rest of the world. Does that help him in any way now?

SUNDARAM: It both helps and hurts him. The fact that Mr. Rusesabagina is an ethnic Hutu means that he's very likely politically popular in Rwanda. The fact that he saved many Tutsi lives during the genocide means that he is also favored by many Tutsis. And the fact that he has international support as the heroic figure in the movie "Hotel Rwanda" means that he is a credible threat to Mr. Kagame. And so that's partly why Mr. Kagame sees it as so important to arrest him and to eliminate - to neutralize the political threat.

SIMON: So it might rally some international support for him but also makes him a target.

SUNDARAM: That's exactly right. If one goes by recent history, when the singer Kizito Mihigo was recently found dead in police custody in Rwanda, many opposition activists have been found dead in Rwanda, the international community has done very little to counter that or to stem that flow. If anything, the repression has increased over the last 10 years. And still, many foreign governments, including the United States, continue to send foreign aid to Mr. Kagame's government directly. And there's very little sign that the international community will do much.

SIMON: Journalist Anjan Sundaram, thanks so much for being with us.

SUNDARAM: Thank you so much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.