The wife of the hero that inspired the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda pleaded this week for help from the United States to get her husband freed from prison.
Taciana Rusesabagina published an opinion piece in The Washington Post – headlined “My husband risked it all to protect hundreds in Rwanda. Now, he needs our help” – on Tuesday as “[i]t has been more than a year since my husband, Paul Rusesabagina … was lured from our Texas home and diverted from his intended destination to another continent to face ‘justice.’”
Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He hid and saved more than 1,268 Tutsi and Hutu refugees during the atrocity. Two years after the genocide, Rusesabagina and his immediate family and two nieces moved to Belgium, where they received asylum and citizenship. Rusesabagina then moved to the United States, where he settled in San Antonio and had a green card. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush.
In 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu and staunch critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, flew on a private jet to what he believed was Burundi. However, he ended up landing in Rwanda, where he was arrested on terrorism and other charges that critics have said are politically motivated due to Rusesabagina’s opposition to Kagame. He was convicted in September on terrorism charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
In her Post piece, Taciana Rusesabagina, who is Tutsi, wrote that her husband’s “supposed crime was nothing more than using his voice.”
“Since then, my husband has languished with limited human contact in a jail in Rwanda and our family is enduring another holiday season without him, sustained only by slivers of joy brought by the 5-minute phone calls we are permitted every Friday morning,” she said.
“My husband has not spared the Rwandan government, led for more than two decades by President Paul Kagame, from his criticism. My husband Paul and many others throughout the world have made their hopes for Rwanda clear,” added Rusesabagina. “Simply stated, Paul has been a voice for the voiceless, calling out loudly in favor of human rights and a system of democracy that does not currently exist.”
Taciana Rusesabagina noted that “Rwanda is an ally of the United States” and “is the recipient of millions in financial aid and cooperates more broadly on important foreign policy interests in Central Africa.” She said that she’s “encouraged by the growing chorus around the world calling for my husband’s release.”
“If the U.S. relationship with Rwanda is strong enough to be deserving of financial and trusted cooperation, then it is strong enough to push for the release of my husband on humanitarian grounds,” she wrote, adding, “I know the United States will not forget Paul’s example and will take what steps are necessary to bring him home.”