Hotel Rwanda hero, Paul Rusesabagina may have been under surveillance, say dissidents

The United Arab Emirates has denied being involved in the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina,the 'Hotel Rwanda' film hero, saying he left Dubai legally last Friday on a private jet bound for Rwanda.

Rwandan dissidents say they suspect that Rusesabagina was hacked or otherwise tracked using surveillance technology in the days before his arrest this week by the Rwandan government, which has raised questions about the country’s alleged use of spyware.

After landing in Dubai on Thursday, Rusesabagina went to a hotel, said the official, before taking off five hours later from Al Maktoum airport just after midnight.

A longtime critic of President Paul Kagame's rule, his travel immediately raises questions why he got on the jet, knowing he would face charges in Rwanda.

Days after his departure from Dubai, the 66-year-old human rights activist was seen in handcuffs in Rwanda, where he has been arrested on terrorism-related charges.

The conditions surrounding his arrest are still unclear and have prompted suspicion among dissidents that Rusesabagina – who holds a US Green card and EU citizenship, and lives in Belgium, was kidnapped after being closely watched and his location tracked.

A UAE official confirmed that there is no agreement between the Gulf state and Rwanda to extradite criminals or wanted people.

They said that Rusesabagina had visited Dubai twice in the last few years and that he raised no suspicions from authorities in the UAE, because he wasn't on any wanted lists.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) has not respond to queries about the apparent discrepancies and a spokesperson has said that Rusesabagina has to answer "charges of serious crime."

Rusesabagina's family told CNN that they believe he was kidnapped, but have no proof of this.

The new information coming from the UAE has raised further questions about his mysterious arrest and the claims made by Rwandan authorities.

Rwandan agents have regularly followed Paul Rusesabagina for over a decade, invading his home and threatening his life.

His family are also concerned for his health because he is a cancer survivor and heart patient who requires daily medication.

Rusesabagina -- who gained prominence for saving 1,200 Rwandans during the country's genocide by sheltering them in the hotel he managed -- inspired the acclaimed 2004 Hollywood film starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.

He has received several human rights awards for his efforts during the genocide, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and the Human Rights Prize by the Lantos Foundation in 2011.

Rusesabagina and his supporters have long maintained that he became a target of President Kagame's government after sustained criticism of the regime and the conduct of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in ending the genocide in 1994.

Kagame, who has been president since 2000 and won his most recent election in 2017 with 99% of the vote, has been accused of authoritarianism and extreme intolerance of any critical voices or threats to his political dominance.

The Rwandan government has also been repeatedly accused of targeting political dissidents overseas and allegedly using spyware to monitor those living in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

In 2019 at least six dissidents connected to Rwanda were warned by WhatsApp that they had been targeted by spyware made by the NSO Group, the Israeli surveillance company that sells its software to governments, in a targeted attack that affected hundreds of users around the world over a two-week period from April to May that year.

The NSO Group, which does not reveal the names of its clients, has said it has no knowledge of how governments use its spyware, meant for tracking terrorists and criminals. It has also denied allegations raised in a lawsuit by WhatsApp in the US that it played any role in carrying out the attempted infiltration in 2019.