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Family of Detained Rwanda Hotelier Rejects Defense Lawyer

FILE - Hotelier Paul Rusesabagina sits with his lawyer David Rugaza (at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda on September 25, 2020.

Anaise Kanimba, a daughter of Rwanda hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, and attorney David Rugaza agree that the man who depicted as a hero in the Oscar-nominated film "Hotel Rwanda" is innocent of 13 counts of terror-related charges.

But that is where their agreement ends.

A tussle over his legal representation in a Kigali court threatens to hurt Rusesabagina's chances of adequate legal representation in a case that is drawing worldwide attention.

Kanimba told VOA that the family does not approve or recognize Rugaza as its father's defense attorney, alleging he was appointed by the government. She said the family has no faith in what she calls the “Rwandan kangaroo court.”

“These lawyers are pro bono," she told VOA in a weekend interview. "We have tried to get him one of the top lawyers but the government denied us. These are fake lawyers to continue the sham trial."

But Rugaza says he was appointed by Rusesabagina. He told VOA that Rusesabagina picked him out of a list provided by the government and and that he approved the legal team.

"I was not chosen by the government," he told VOA. "He appointed me as his defense attorney and every effort made to communicate with his family in the United States and Belgium has received no response."

Denied bail by the court, Rusesabagina has not commented on his legal representation.

Rusesabagina has been a staunch opponent of the Rwandan leadership under President Paul Kagame, saying the government works through fear and intimidation. He left Rwanda in 1996 and advocates regime change.

When he boarded private jet in Dubai in August, he thought he was on his way to Burundi for a speaking engagement but was instead flown to Kigali. The government denies any role in his apprehension.

Rwandan authorities accused Rusesabagina of being the “founder, leader and sponsor of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits.” He admitted in court last week that he was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition party abroad, but denied involvement in crimes.

Rights groups have also questioned the prospects of a fair trail by government- appointed lawyers, VOA reported.

The family said it has ruled out working with Rugaza and concluded that a fair trial is not possible in a government-packed court with a government appointed defense team.

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