KIGALI (Reuters) – Foreign lawyers of Paul Rusesabagina, depicted as a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, say they have been stopped from seeing their client who is under detention in the central African country.
A political dissident who has lived in exile in Belgium and the United States, Rusesabagina was arrested in August after returning to the country and subsequently charged with terrorism and other offences.
Attorneys Vincent Lurquin and Philippe Larochelle said in an online press conference their efforts to talk to their client during a recent visit to Rwanda had been frustrated by authorities.
Larochelle said both had tried unsuccessfully to get required clearance from the head of the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), Julien Kavaruganda, to be allowed to see their client.
After spending 16 days in the country looking for Kavaruganda, Larochelle said he “was nowhere to be found and I was never able to meet Rusesabagina during my stay in Rwanda.”
Larochelle said he went to the prison and tried to speak to his client and was blocked by authorities there.
“It’s really painful to see that…for one accused to see a lawyer of his choice should not be impeded in any manner whatsoever.”
Both lawyers said they had applied to the RBA to be permitted to see their client but had not heard back from the body.
In a WhatsApp message Kavaruganda said the lawyers did not have a work permit and visa to practise law in Rwanda.
“Usually a foreigner willing to come and work in Rwanda needs a visa and work permit. If a foreigner is willing to come to Rwanda and practice as an advocate he or she has to fulfil the conditions,” Kavaruganda said.
The movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ was inspired by Rusesabagina’s heroism protecting Tutsis who sought safety at a hotel in the capital Kigali where he was manager. An estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in the genocide.
(Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Toby Chopra)