Texas lawmakers joined other U.S. senators and representatives in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to facilitate the safe return home of San Antonio resident Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda fame.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and U.S. Reps Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio), and Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio), and 36 of their colleagues signed a June 29 letter to Blinken asking him to use “all diplomatic means at your disposal” to bring Rusesabagina back to the United States.
Rusesabagina, who has maintained a residence in San Antonio since 2009 and splits his time between the United States and Brussels, Belgium, has been detained in Rwanda since August 2020. His plane flew to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, instead of going to Burundi, a neighboring country that Rusesabagina thought he was traveling to. He was arrested on arrival and has been imprisoned since then. Rwandan officials are seeking a life sentence over nine charges, including terrorism.
“We continue to have serious concerns with the extrajudicial means used by the Rwandan government to detain Mr. Rusesabagina and reports from his family and his Foundation that the Rwandan government is refusing to grant him access to international counsel, as well as the ongoing violations of attorney-client privilege with his local legal team,” the letter states.
“Instead, the authorities have reportedly confined him to his prison cell for 23 hours a day and continue to deny him necessary prescription medicine. Several of us have met with members of his family and supporters who have reported that Mr. Rusesabagina was subjected to severe physical abuse during periods of interrogation.”
Rusesabagina’s experiences during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, inspired the 2004 Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda. President George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his efforts to protect Hutu and Tutsi refugees. But he is less lauded in his home country, as critics accuse him of anti-Tutsi hate speech and for exaggerating what he did during the genocide. Rusesabagina also has been a critic of current Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who took leadership of the country in 1994.
The June 29 letter also notes that St. Mary’s University brought espionage concerns to the FBI after a Rwandan diplomat joined a videoconference call for an international communications class that Rusesabagina’s son Tresor Rusesabagina attended. The class had made it a project to help their classmate secure his father’s release.
“Such behavior supports a recent Freedom House report that describes the Rwandan government’s transnational repression of its critics globally,” the U.S. Congress members wrote.
The letter signatories closed by asking if there would be any repercussions on the U.S. and Rwanda relationships, given Rusesabagina’s continued detention, and how the State Department would protect other Rwandans living in the United States from similar treatment.
“The Department of State must use all diplomatic powers to return Mr. Rusesabagina home to the United States,” Gonzales said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The Biden Administration committed to ensuring that Rwanda would conduct Mr. Rusesabagina’s trial fairly and transparently. With concerning reports coming out of poor conditions and abuse against him, it should be assumed he will not be granted a fair trial and all measures should be taken to ensure he returns home.”