Rwanda Official Admits Legal Violations in ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Case

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Rwanda’s attorney general inadvertently revealed that he had intercepted privileged and confidential legal materials in the ongoing terrorism case against Paul Rusesabagina, the prominent dissident whose efforts to save more than 1,200 people during the country’s genocide was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda.”

In a video interview published by Al Jazeera English, Johnston Busingye, who is both justice minister and attorney general, rejected accusations that authorities had confiscated Mr. Rusesabagina’s papers or trampled on attorney-client privilege.

But in an hour-and-half-long preparation video that his public relations team accidentally sent to the media outlet, Mr. Busingye contradicted himself, saying that the prison authorities had intercepted correspondence between Mr. Rusesabagina and his lawyers and children, some of which included escape plans.

Mr. Busingye also discussed with the team how to respond to questions about whether the Rwandan government had paid for the flight that in August brought Mr. Rusesabagina to Kigali, where he was arrested on charges including murder, armed robbery and being a member of a terrorist organization.

The latest revelations came just hours after a Rwandan court on Friday ruled that it had jurisdiction to try Mr. Rusesabagina — a Belgian citizen and permanent resident of the United States. It also came as the trial faces widespread condemnation from entities including rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament.

The latest disclosures, his lawyers say, also cloud the prospects of Mr. Rusesabagina’s getting a fair hearing, given that his international lawyers have not been permitted into Kigali to represent him and prison officials continue to confiscate his case files. Mr. Rusesabagina, a former hotelier, has told his lawyers that he is afraid to die of a stroke in prison, and his family members have said they remain concerned about his deteriorating health.

During the interview with Al Jazeera, Mr. Busingye denied that Mr. Rusesabagina’s communication with his lawyers had been intercepted. But “if that has happened, it will be raised in the courts and the courts will address it fairly,” he told the Al Jazeera interviewer, Marc Lamont Hill, on the “UpFront” show.

In another clip aired by Al Jazeera, Mr. Busingye is seen receiving advice on how to respond to queries about who paid for the private jet that brought Mr. 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 Mr. Hill from Al Jazeera queried him about who had paid for the jet, Mr. Busingye said the Rwandan government had done so.

Ever since Mr. Rusesabagina was presented to the press handcuffed in Kigali on Aug. 31, questions have swirled about how he ended up there.

He left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and arrived in Dubai on an Emirates flight from Chicago on the evening of Aug. 27. He then checked into the Ibis Hotel in Dubai, according to a document from the United Arab Emirates mission in Geneva, and five hours later boarded a private jet that he believed was headed to Burundi, where he planned to speak to churches at the invitation of a local pastor.

The next day, the plane, operated by the Greece-based charter firm GainJet, landed in Kigali, where he was arrested, bound and interrogated.

The Rwandan authorities have, including in interviews with The New York Times, previously confirmed that they had leased the charter service for government operations, but never explicitly confirmed having hired the exact flight that brought Mr. Rusesabagina to Kigali.

In December, Mr. Rusesabagina and his family sued GainJet over its role in the episode.

After his arrest, President Paul Kagame — whose government had been trying to apprehend the 66-year-old Mr. Rusesabagina for years — dubbed the operation “flawless” and said that it was not a kidnapping.

As for Mr. Rusesabagina’s escape plans, his daughter Carine Kanimba said she had received WhatsApp and Twitter messages since November of a person claiming to be one of her father’s prison guards. The messages, both audio and written and reviewed by The Times, described Mr. Rusesabagina’s routine and suggested ways of helping him escape.

“I never responded,” Ms. Kanimba said in a telephone interview. “My fear was that I would respond and that they would use that against my father.”

In December, the family also shared the material with the F.B.I., the U.S. State Department, and the Belgian foreign ministry.

On Friday, the Rwandan authorities doubled down on their position, calling the arrest “legal and proper.” In a statement, the Justice Ministry said that Mr. Busingye had become aware of a “possible violation” in December with regards to privileged documents, and that he had instructed that they be returned to Mr. Rusesabagina.

Kate Gibson, Mr. Rusesabagina’s lead counsel, contested the statement, saying that his papers “continue to be routinely and systematically confiscated, including his privileged and confidential materials.” Ms. Gibson is one of three lawyers awaiting permission to represent the former hotelier in Kigali.

As late as this past week, she said, Mr. Rusesabagina was denied from going to his cell with his documents.

“We now see from the Al Jazeera preparation video that the content of privileged and confidential legal documents are making their way to the highest levels,” she said in an email. “The right to confidential communication is at the heart of legal representation. Without it, it is impossible to consider proceedings fair.”

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