LOS ANGELES, Cali. – The latest effort to free San Antonio resident Paul Rusesabagina has just received national attention thanks to some of Hollywood’s elite.
Rusesabagina, who helped save over 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, called the Alamo City home for years.
He became a human rights activist since then and even became a vocal critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. Paul’s family believes it’s for this reason their father was tricked to boarding a plane in Dubai in August of 2020 when he was trying to travel to the country of Burundi.
The flight flew to Rwanda instead and Rusesabagina was arrested on charges related to terrorism.
The 67-year-old Rusesabagina, who suffers from cardiovascular issues and is a cancer survivor, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September of last year. During his time behind bars, the Rusesabagina family alleged that Paul has not received the medication he needs and that now, he may have suffered a stroke last month.
“We are extremely worried for his safety, we are extremely worried for his life‚” said Anaise Kanimba, Paul’s daughter. “He’s sick, he’s ill, he hasn’t had the medication that he needs for the last 580 days. We believe that he had a stroke. We don’t have time and that is why we need help, we need the help of the international community so that the injustice that he is living can end.”
Kanimba was part of a panel Wednesday morning hosted by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation. The purpose of the panel was to bring more attention to the movement attempting to free Rusesabagina through diplomatic means.
Joining the panel was actor Don Cheadle, who portrayed Rusesabagina in the Academy Award-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” released in 2004.
“It’s been very difficult to process what has happened to my friend Paul Rusesabagina,” said Cheadle. “Paul is an advocate for human rights and democracy. There’s no question that Paul has been mistreated. His basic fundamental rights have clearly not been respected or recognized in the circumstances underlining his arrest and during the trail proceedings.”
There’s been very little public acknowledgement -- at least on camera -- by U.S. politicians, including the then Trump and now Biden administration. It’s silence like that, among other factors, that Cheadle says brought him to finally speak on Rusesabagina’s imprisonment.
“The world’s attention has been focused on the pandemic, elections, strongmen around the world, January 6, the Super Bowl, and a host of other events that have been fighting for eyes and attention in this 24-hour news cycle,” explained Cheadle. “So, here we are now, trying to collectively make noise, shine a light, draw attention to the circumstances and we’re hoping that it’s not too late.”
During the online panel, Cheadle went on to detail what he attempted when he was informed on Rusesabagina’s arrest and trial.
“From the first day I learned of Paul’s imprisonment, I started making phone calls to his family, to politicians, to friends of President Kagame, to lawyers, to organizations - basically to anybody I thought could help find a solution to this,” Cheadle said. “I also simultaneously began to try to get my hands on information about the charges that Paul was accused of and try to find independent sources, if there were any, that could refute or even corroborate what was being claimed by the Rwandan government. That was very difficult to do.”
Although there has been a massive amount of criticism of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame over his latest re-election success and alleged retaliation to critics of his presidency, Cheadle took time to elaborate on his personal interactions with President Kagame over the years.
“In all my interactions with him, I’ve been shown kindness, generosity up to and including he and his wife hosting my family at their residence,” said Cheadle. “It’s very difficult for me to reconcile my experience with President Kagame who’s always positioned himself to be a level-headed statesman, a man known for his leniency and temperance by rejecting the option of violent reprisals in the aftermath of the genocide when many around him were calling for just that. It’s hard to reconcile with being the same person admittedly responsible for Paul’s abduction.”
Featured during the panel was a series of pictures of various Hollywood stars wearing t-shirts with the words, “Free Rusesabagina” below a picture of Paul.
We hope you've heard Paul's story, and that it's moved you to action. Our panelists today are working hard for his release. Stand with us, help however you can. https://t.co/jd2c4uZBEA #FreeRusesabagina pic.twitter.com/NkkGxJBv1B— RFK Human Rights (@RFKHumanRights) April 13, 2022
Joining Cheadle in the pictures were Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Philadelphia 76ers head coach and former San Antonio Spurs guard Doc Rivers and Sophie Okonedo, who played Paul’s wife Taciana in the featured film.
Cheadle added later, “If we’re unable to persuade President Kagame to intercede and intervene on Paul’s behalf, he will likely die in prison and that would be awful. So, we’re all here now, hoping to prevent that from occurring, not just for Paul and his family but also for the cause of justice in general.”
You can watch the entire panel on YouTube.