Daughter of man detained behind “Hotel Rwanda” says she was spied on by Israeli software


By Stéphanie Busari and Nimi Princewill, CNN

The daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotelier who inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, denounced the Rwandan authorities after a report revealed that she was on a list of people targeted by Pegasus, military-grade spyware licensed by an Israeli company to governments.

Carine Kanimba’s phone number was among “more than 3,500 phone numbers for activists, journalists, political opponents, foreign politicians and diplomats” allegedly targeted by Pegasus at the request of the Rwandan government since 2016, according to an Amnesty International report based in Paris. Forbidden Stories journalism network.

Kanimba told CNN in a telephone interview that she believes she is a target because of the work she has done to free her father, who faces life imprisonment on terrorism charges in Rwanda.

He denies all the charges and said in March he would stop participating in court proceedings. His international lawyers also say they were denied access to defend him.

Rusesabagina became known for having saved more than 1,000 Rwandans during the country’s genocide in 1994 by accommodating them in the hotel he managed. About 800,000 were killed in the genocide.

The 67-year-old was first arrested in August 2020 and faces nine counts, including terrorist financing and murder as an act of terrorism.

At the start of the trial, he told the court that he wanted to be characterized as a Belgian citizen kidnapped by the Rwandan authorities, who have no jurisdiction to try him.

‘False accusations’

Kanimba, a dual American and Belgian citizen, said she had long suspected that she was being stalked by Rwandan authorities.

“I was suspicious because while rallying support from governments, parliamentarians and organizations around the world over the past 11 months … sometimes some will tell me that the Rwandan government approached them after I sent them an e- mail or had a phone call with them. … So I had this instinct that I was being followed or watched.

Rwandan authorities have denied ever using Pegasus.

Vincent Biruta, the Rwandan foreign minister, said in a statement that the accusations were “false” and that it was an “attempt at disinformation about Rwanda”.

“Rwanda does not use this software system… and does not have this technical capacity in any form. These false accusations are part of an ongoing campaign to provoke tensions between Rwanda and other countries, ”he said in the statement.

Kanimba’s claims came during the week when a massive global reporting effort revealed that 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, politicians, business leaders and two women linked to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted by Pegasus.

CNN was not part of the reporting effort and was unable to independently verify the report’s claims.

“Bugged conversations”

Kanimba told CNN that an Amnesty International team contacted her in April to inform her that conversations she had had with foreign government officials aimed at securing her father’s release were intercepted via Pegasus. .

“The forensic team confirmed that during my meeting with the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, my phone was monitored for the duration of the meeting and up to 30 minutes after my departure, and no one else was has no other interest in this conversation than the Rwandan government because it was specifically about my father and how to get him released from Rwandan prison.

In a lengthy statement to CNN on Sunday, NSO Group strongly denied the investigation’s findings, claiming in part that it sells its “technologies only to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of controlled governments for the sole purpose of save lives by preventing criminal and terrorist acts. “

NSO also said its systems “are used every day to break down pedophilia, sex and drug trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings and protect airspace. against the disruptive penetration of dangerous drones “.

However, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the Israeli company had sold “its equipment to countries with a track record of illegally monitoring human rights defenders and journalists.”

“NSO does not operate the system and has no visibility into the data,” the company said, saying it would continue to investigate “all credible allegations of abuse and take appropriate action based on them. results “of these surveys.

Kanimba cited a specific example where information known only to the family’s legal team was allegedly raised by Rwandan authorities during a visit by a lawyer to the prison.

“Our lawyer in Rwanda was searched when he went to the prison to see my father. The authorities were looking for a signed document and affidavits that we wanted my father to sign about the torture he suffered. Our lawyer was searched and requested this document but we had not yet communicated this information to him. Only our international lawyers knew about it.

CNN has contacted the Rwandan government regarding this specific allegation.

“Our family has suffered enough”

Kanimba said the forensic investigation team had also informed her that there had been several attempts to infect her phone as she met with various government officials in an attempt to free her father.

“It was continuous between January and May, then when I was in the US in May, it (the Pegasus spyware) stopped working. There was an attempt, according to the forensic team, to re-infect my phone while I was on US soil, but it was unsuccessful, ”she told CNN.

Kanimba said she feared their legal strategy to secure her father’s release from her father was already known to the Rwandan government.

“I have had calls with the US State Department over the past few months so these calls were monitored and the email exchanges read. So our legal strategy or diplomatic strategy – everything we do to get my father released – has essentially been read by what we believe to be the Rwandan authorities, ”she said.

Kanimba said she talks to her father every week on “weird five-minute calls”.

“The calls are very tense because he doesn’t speak at ease because he seems to have authorities around him. We can’t tell her much because we’re afraid of what might happen to her, ”she said.

She urged world leaders to intervene in her case.

“Our family has suffered enough and we fear for my father’s life. We want the world and the international community to stop turning a blind eye and put enough pressure on (Rwandan President Paul) Kagame to release my father because we have to bring him home … and I hope the world will finally listen.

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CNN’s Larry Madowo contributed to this report

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