CHICAGO – July 2nd – It has been more than 300 days since Hotel Rwanda humanitarian and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Paul Rusesabagina was kidnapped by the Rwandan government and imprisoned in Kigali. Paul is in poor health, was tortured for four days upon his arrival, has extremely limited access to his lawyers, and was in solitary confinement for over 250 days. His legal rights under Rwandan and international law have been violated at every step of the process and it is clear that a “fair” trial is impossible in his case.
Contrary to standard legal practice in virtually every court, Paul has had limited or no access to the files in the dossier against him. In addition, privileged and confidential documents brought to him by his lawyers are routinely confiscated and typically not returned. Recently, even his access to the heavily edited court reports put out at the end of every trial day was cut off by the Prison authorities, who told Paul’s lawyers that they are acting pursuant to “new rules”.
What does the Rwandan government fear from a 67 year old man who has been in their custody and total control for almost a year? Why do they continue to deny him access to any and all documents related to his case?
What is the Rwandan Government actually hiding by denying Paul access to any meaningful documentation to his case? The same thing that they are hiding by kidnapping him instead of seeking his extradition by legal means?
Are they hiding the fact that there is actually no case against him? No evidence to speak of? No documents? No photos? No investigation? No credible witnesses? A Belgian casefile upon which the Belgians have refused to do anything so far and which likely lead to a non-lieu shortly?
Even the judges in Paul’s case ruled that he should have access to his documents after they visited the prison in March following motions filed by Paul’s lawyers challenging his lack of access to his case file. But this changed nothing. The judges and prison authorities are playing a ridiculous game, blaming each other for administrative flaws, when it is clear that in Rwanda all decisions are made at the top. There should be no mistaking the fact that this is a coordinated effort to deny Paul his rights. In addition, over the past two months the mistreatment of his lawyers when they visit the prison and confiscation has increased.
What does this look like? Paul has no pen or paper to write with or take notes that might help him in his trial. He was given access to a computer in March after complaining vigorously that he could not access the case file which is entirely digital, but that computer is useless. It is checked by the prison weekly, such that any work that he did in his defense cannot possibly be “confidential.”
In public statements, including a recent one by the Rwandan Bar Association, the government insists that Paul has access to the documents he needs. Paul and his lawyers say that this is simply false, and that he has access to no documents right now. According to the Rwandans, documents are only confiscated to ensure the security of prisoners. In particular, the government seems to be constantly looking for evidence of an escape plan. It is worth noting here that no one escapes from jails in one of the most watched societies on the planet, with a few exceptions of reports by human rights organizations that prisoners have been killed, supposedly while trying to escape, but in reality as a set up by the government.
So why are the Rwandans confiscating these documents? For punishment. Plain and simple. There is no legal reason, but keeping documents needed for his defense from a prisoner is another way to control and punish them. As they have many times in the past, the Rwandan government is saying “we have you, and now we will do whatever we want to you.”