Exclusive: Congressmen urge Blinken to demand release of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

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As the conviction of WNBA star Brittney Griner dominates the headlines in Russia, members of Congress are urging the White House to do more to release yet another prominent figure: Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the critically acclaimed movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ from 2004.

In a letter shared exclusively with TBEN News on Thursday, Representatives Joaquin Castro and Young Kim asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “use all diplomatic means at your disposal to ensure the safe return of Mr. Rusesabagina to the United States.” States to insure.” They pleaded with the secretary to urge the president of Rwanda to “immediately release” Rusesabagina during Blinken’s visit to the East African nation next week, where Rusesabagina has been held for nearly two years.

Rusesabagina, a lawful permanent resident of the US, was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups came to a head. The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the ethnic Hutu majority, launched a systematic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to exterminate the ethnic minority Tutsi, massacring more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, over the course of 100 days. and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to United Nations estimates.

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More than 1,200 people took shelter at the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda’s history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to protect hotel guests from massacres. The events were later immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda,” with American actor Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 2005.

Rusesabagina, who fled Rwanda with his family in 1996 and later settled in San Antonio, Texas, rose to fame and was hailed as a hero after the film’s release. In 2005, he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the US President. He also wrote a book, delivered paid speeches and became an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in office for the past two decades.

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In August 2020, Rusesabagina traveled to Dubai to meet a Burundi-born pastor whom Rusesabagina said had invited him to speak in churches in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. The couple jumped on a private jet that Rusesabagina believed would take them to Burundi’s capital, according to Rusesabagina’s international legal team.

Unbeknownst to Rusesabagina, the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and had tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali. He was subsequently arrested and tried on a slew of terrorism-related charges, with Rwandan prosecutors alleging that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last September, Rusesabagina, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted of eight of the nine terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In May, the US State Department determined that Rusesabagina had been “unjustly detained.” In June, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the Biden administration to demand the release of Rusesabagina on humanitarian grounds.

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In their letter to Blinken, Castro and Kim warned that if the US does not take a firm stance on Rusesabagina’s detention, others could be put at risk.

“Failing to address the Rwandan government’s actions will only encourage it to continue targeting US citizens and residents,” they wrote.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Blinken plans to discuss Rusesabagina’s case during his upcoming visit to Rwanda. Speaking to TBEN News on Thursday, a senior US official declined to say whether Blinken would communicate any implications for the Rwandan government if it doesn’t release Rusesabagina, but emphasized that the Biden administration “has been very clear with the Rwandan government about our concerns about his case, his trial and his conviction, especially the lack of guarantees of a fair trial.”

Castro and Kim said the Biden administration must act as quickly as possible to secure Rusesabagina’s freedom due to his age and ill health.

“We also ask you to visit Mr. Rusesabagina, who is imprisoned in unsafe conditions and suffers from health problems that endanger his life,” they wrote in their letter. “Paul Rusesabagina is a 68-year-old cancer and stroke survivor who remains in ill health. He has been imprisoned for more than 700 days without proper medical care.”

In a statement to TBEN News on Thursday, Rusesabagina’s family expressed their gratitude that his case is “getting attention from higher levels within the community.” [Biden] administration and on Capitol Hill.”

“We especially appreciate Secretary Blinken’s devoted visit and hope that his direct involvement will help end our family nightmare,” said Rusesabagina’s daughter, Anaise Kanimba.

“Rwanda is not a hostile country like Russia, China or Iran; it is a country that benefits significantly from US taxpayers’ money and judicial cooperation,” she added. “If the Administration Can Return Others Wrongly Detained” [citizens] from Russia, it can certainly strengthen its relationship with Rwanda.”

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