Rwandans 'prisoners in their own country': Rusesabagina

The "Hotel Rwanda" hero said his video broadcast on YouTube was issued to coincide with Rwanda's proclamation of independence on July 1, 1962

July 02, 2023 02:59 am | Updated 02:59 am IST - Nairobi

In this file photo taken on October 02, 2020 “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C) in the pink inmate’s uniform arriving at Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, surrounded by guards of Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS). Outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who became internationally renowned for his efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide, said on July 1, 2023 that Rwandans were “prisoners in their own country”.

In this file photo taken on October 02, 2020 “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C) in the pink inmate’s uniform arriving at Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, surrounded by guards of Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS). Outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who became internationally renowned for his efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide, said on July 1, 2023 that Rwandans were “prisoners in their own country”. | Photo Credit: AFP

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."

U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rwanda to discuss Congo tensions, human rights

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."

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.