Hotel Rwanda hero's daughter: Arsenal must reject sponsorship deal with 'dictatorship' Rwanda

  • ITV News Correspondent John Ray on the man who went from inspiring a Hollywood movie to facing jail for the rest of his life

The daughter of Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina has called for Arsenal to reject sponsorship money from Rwanda and demand her father be released from custody.

Mr Rusesabagina, who inspired the hit film Hotel Rwanda, was found guilty of terror-related offences on Monday. He and his family deny the charges and have labelled the trial unjust.

Daughter Carine Kanimba appealed to Arsenal football club, which has a $39 million sponsorship deal with the Rwandan government.

"Arsenal should turn down Rwandan money and ask for my father's immediate release," she told ITV News.

As a hotel manager, Mr Rusesabagina protected more than 1,000 people in need of shelter during a period in 1994 when 800,000 people, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were slaughtered in Rwanda.

Ms Kanimba added that regardless of her father's detention, Arsenal should never have signed the deal.

"Out of respect for human rights, out of respect for justice, out of respect for the future of humanity, then a sports club like Arsenal should not take money from a dictator like Paul Kagame," she said. Kagame is a divisive figure in Rwanda - some praise his visionary leadership, while others see a firm authoritarian with a malicious streak.

Paul Rusesabagina was awarded the medal of Presidential Freedom for his actions. Credit: AP

His government signed the blockbuster deal with Arsenal three years ago - since then, “Visit Rwanda” has been emblazoned on the football shirts of Arsenal’s first, under-23 and women’s teams.

The country’s goal is to double tourism receipts from $404 million by 2024, the Rwanda Development Board said when the deal was closed. Some aid donors and rights activists have criticised the deal, pointing to Rwanda's human rights record and its poverty levels.

An Arsenal spokesperson said: "Since our partnership began in 2018, we have worked together to tell Rwanda’s story of culture, heritage and transition, as well as raising awareness of the country as a holiday destination.

"One year after the partnership began, Rwanda’s tourism revenue increased by 17% and tourists from Europe increased by 22%. This increase supports the growth of Rwanda’s economy, creating more revenue they can reinvest across all key sectors, lifting thousands out of poverty, and empowering citizens.

"This is where we will continue our focus."