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Man Who Inspired 'Hotel Rwanda' Faces Cruel Treatment In Custody, Lawyers Say

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The man who inspired the Hollywood movie "Hotel Rwanda" is facing terrorism charges in his home country. His family in the U.S., where he has lived for years, says he's been held incommunicado for the past week. And now, as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports, his family is asking the United Nations to step in.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Over the weekend, Rwandan President Paul Kagame took to national TV to defend the operation that brought the "Hotel Rwanda" hero back to Kigali.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: There was no kidnap. There was no - any wrongdoing.

PERALTA: Paul Rusesabagina had landed in Dubai for a meeting but somehow ended up on a jet to Rwanda. Kagame says he wasn't extradited but suggested cryptically that Rusesabagina was outsmarted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAGAME: It's like dialing - you're calling a number. You want to get in touch with somebody, and you find you have called the wrong number. That's how it happened.

PERALTA: Kagame says Paul Rusesabagina is not the hero Hollywood makes him out to be, the savior who sheltered Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. President Kagame accused him of leading an armed group that attacked civilians in Rwanda.

ANAISE KANIMBA: You know, it saddens me so much because all of this are lies.

PERALTA: That is Paul Rusesabagina's daughter Anaise Kanimba. She says there's no way her father would've returned to Rwanda voluntarily. And all the other accusations are just the lies of an authoritarian government settling scores with a political rival. They accuse him of distorting the history of the genocide.

KANIMBA: My own family - my real father, my real mother - were killed during the genocide. And I - that is my hero. He's my father. He's also my hero. He saved me from this war.

PERALTA: She was 2 when Rusesabagina, her uncle, found her and her sister in a refugee camp. He became their father. The family is asking the U.N. to investigate because no one has been allowed to speak to him. And in Rwanda, those opposed to the government have been known to be killed or disappeared. Right now, she says, all they want is to hear his voice. It's the only way they'll know that he is OK.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOSE WHO RIDE WITH GIANTS' "THE SAFETY OF THE SLEEPY MOONLIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.