San Antonio congressmen, Texas senator urge feds to ensure Paul Rusesabagina’s ‘safe return’ to U.S. amid trial in Rwanda

Both Republican and Democratic elected officials applying pressure on United States government

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2020, file photo, Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda" for saving people from genocide, wears a pink prison uniform as he appears for a bail hearing at a court in the capital Kigali, Rwanda. As the terrorism trial for Rusesabagina is set to start on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 his family says the critic of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame has no chance at a fair trial and might die from poor health behind bars. (AP Photo/Muhizi Olivier, File) (Muhizi Olivier, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It’s almost been a full year since a United States resident living in San Antonio was tricked onto a private charter flight that ended with his arrest and imprisonment once he landed in Rwanda.

Now, elected officials from both parties are demanding answers from the United States government as the trial for Paul Rusesabagina nears its conclusion.

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Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, was the subject of the feature film “Hotel Rwanda.” He is now facing terrorism charges in his home country. Rusesabagina, who is a United States resident and had been living in San Antonio with his family, denies the charges and claims they are a product of political persecution because of his criticism of Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

Last week, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Congressman Tony Gonzales (R-TX) and 38 other senators and members of Congress urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for updates in the ongoing efforts to release Rusesabagina from Rwanda. The letter also asks for clarification on any U.S. talks with Rwanda on a fair and transparent trial of Rusesabagina.

“We write to convey our ongoing concern with the continued detention of Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, by the Rwandan government and to urge you to use all of the diplomatic means at your disposal to ensure his safe return to the United States,” the letter states.

The bipartisan letter also highlights the April incident at St. Mary’s University where a Rwandan diplomat allegedly joined a Zoom classroom presentation without permission in order to monitor the students discussion on Paul Rusesabagina. The class presentation was joined by two of Rusesabagina’s children, one who attends St. Mary’s and the other who was leading the discussion.

Rusesabagina was arrested late August of 2020 after he boarded a private jet in Dubai. Rusesabagina believed he was flying to Burundi where he would speak at a number of churches. Instead, the flight went directly to Kigali, Rwanda where Rusesabagina was arrested and jailed on charges related to terrorism that include arson, murder and funding a terrorist organization. The family of Paul Rusesabagina calls the arrest a kidnapping and the charges against him retaliation for Paul’s repeated criticism of the Rwandan government.

This is not the first time United States politicians have asked for answers in regards to the arrest of Rusesabagina. In December of last year, 37 Senators and members of Congress wrote a letter to Rwandan President Paul Kagame asking for Rusesabagina’s safe return to the United States based on humanitarian grounds. They also questioned the Rwandan government over the way Rusesabagina was arrested rather than being extradited to the country.

“We believe that releasing Mr. Rusesabagina on humanitarian grounds is both justified and appropriate, since he is a cancer survivor in the midst of the COVID pandemic who suffers from several chronic medical conditions,” the letter stated.

The Rwandan trial began in March but Rusesabagina has not attended most of it, stating early on to the court that he did not believe he would get a fair trial. The trial is nearing its end as rebuttals have begun on Rusesabagina’s behalf. However, the trial is on a brief hiatus but is expected to resume next week followed by closing arguments. After that, a panel of judges will deliver their final verdict, which is expected to come in September. If found guilty, Rusesabagina could spend the rest of his life in prison.

About the Author

Daniel P. Villanueva has been with KSAT 12 since 2003 and is the producer of our weekly sports show, "Instant Replay." Villanueva is a graduate of St. Mary's University and is a TAPB and Lone Star Emmy award winner.

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