KIGALI, 28 February 2021 – The government of Rwanda may have acted illegally, certainly inappropriately, in the case it is currently bringing against a prominent dissident.
Rwanda’s Justice Minister who doubles as the country’s Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, inadvertently revealed that he intercepted documents the state should not have had access to.
In a video interview published by Al Jazeera English service, Busingye reveals that he intercepted privileged and confidential legal materials meant for Paul Rusesabagina, who is facing trial on several charges, including murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
One of Rwanda’s most prominent dissidents, Rusesabagina became world famous after his efforts to save the lives of more than 1,2000 people during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda were portrayed in the Hollywood movie, Hotel Rwanda.
Over a 100-day period in 1994, an estimated one million people – mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus – were massacred in cold blood.
In the interview, Busingye rejected accusations that Rwandese authorities confiscated the dissident’s papers or trampled on attorney-client privilege.
However, in a 90-minute-long preparation video shared with Al Jazeera by the attorney general’s public relations team, Busingye contradicts himself.
The minister confesses that prison authorities had intercepted correspondence between Mr. Rusesabagina and his lawyers and children, some of which reportedly included escape plans.
According to excerpts aired by “UpFront” host Marc Lamont Hill on Al Jazeera, the attorney general also discussed how to handle questions about allegations that the Rwandan government paid for the flight that, last August, conveyed Rusesabagina to Kigali. Upon arrival, the defendant was arrested and charged, among others, with murder, armed robbery, and terrorism.
The gaffe by the attorney general reveals the kind of embarrassing truth that will add to the pressure Rwanda is already facing from all over the world, notably from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, to drop the charges against Rusesabagina.
The countries and organizations putting pressure on Kigali argue that Rusesabagina’s presence in Rwanda against his will constitutes rendition, a violation of international law.
The defendant has argued that he is not answerable to Rwandan laws given that he is a national of Belgium.
Last Friday, a Rwandan court ruled that it had jurisdiction to try the defendant on grounds that he did not renounce his Rwandese nationality after acquiring Belgian citizenship.
On Sunday, Rusesabagina’s lawyers immediately seized on the gaffe, arguing that it further clouds the prospects that their client will get a fair trial in Rwanda.
They also point to the fact that the defendant’s international lawyers have not yet been permitted to come into the country.
In one of the most compromising clips aired by Al Jazeera, Busingye is seen receiving advice on how to respond to queries about who paid for the private jet that brought Rusesabagina to Kigali.
In the video, the public relations consultant can be heard warning the minister to be “cautious” because the interviewer was “looking for something they can put out in a news release about the interview — looking for nuggets of hard stuff.”
When Marc Lamont Hill, host of the “UpFront” show on Al Jazeera queried Busingye about who had paid for the jet, Mr. Busingye said the Rwandan government had done so.
Details have come to the surface on how the defendant ended up in Rwanda whereas he believed he was headed to Burundi.
The most updated timeline on his travel says Rusesabagina arrived Dubai on an Emirates flight from Chicago on the evening of 27 August 2020 after departing his home in San Antonio, Texas, the day before.
Five hours after checking into his room at the Ibis Hotel in Dubai, a private jet took off with him headed for what he believed was Burundi. His plan was to speak to churches at the initiative of a local pastor.
Instead, the jet landed the next day in Kigali, where he was met by security forces who arrested, bound, remanded him in custody before charges were filed against him.
Rwandan government officials previously admitted to The New York Times that they leased the charter service for government operations.
Last December, Rusesabagina and his family sued GainJet, the Greece-based charter firm which operated the jet that facilitated his rendition to Rwanda.