Outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who became internationally renowned for his efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide, said on July 1 that Rwandans were "prisoners in their own country".
In his first public message since he walked free from a Rwandan prison in March after more than 900 days behind bars, Mr. Rusesabagina thanked the United States for orchestrating his surprise release from what he described as "hell".
The "Hotel Rwanda" hero said his video broadcast on YouTube was issued to coincide with Rwanda's proclamation of independence on July 1, 1962.
"Unfortunately today, 61 years later, Rwandans are still not free. Rwandans are prisoners inside their own country," said Mr. Rusesabagina, speaking from his home in San Antonio in the U.S. State of Texas.
"Rwanda is an authoritarian government that has no rights for its citizens and doesn't tolerate dissent for its citizens."
Mr. Rusesabagina, who his family said was in ailing health, was released on March 25 after 939 days behind bars, after the Kigali government commuted his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges.
"In particular I want to thank the U.S. government for stepping in and taking up my case," he said.
"This is what made the difference. When the U.S. government said that this cannot continue, Rwanda was forced to be realistic."
The 69-year-old's detention had thrown a spotlight on Rwanda's record of crushing political dissent and free speech under President Paul Kagame, who Rusesabagina has often branded a "dictator".
Washington has said Mr. Rusesabagina was "wrongfully detained" after a plane carrying him to Burundi was diverted to Rwanda in August 2020.
The Belgian citizen, who also has U.S. residency, was convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group after a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham.
Mr. Rusesabagina, then the manager of a Kigali hotel, is credited with having helped to save about 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide in which about 800,000 people were slaughtered, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.
His story inspired the Oscar-nominated 2004 movie "Hotel Rwanda" starring U.S. actor Don Cheadle.
But Mr. Rusesabagina said the government had attempted to "silence me through politics, surveillance and violence" since the film came out and that its actions against him had served "to show the world their true colours".
"They kidnap, forcefully imprison, torture, kill and set up sham trials for anyone who disagrees with them. I was only lucky that I was not killed like many other people. My case made headlines around the world but am only one of thousands each year in this situation."