U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro urges release of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina; House passes resolution

Castro said Rusesabagina’s imprisonment is ‘clear effort to silence his criticism’ of Rwandan president

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Paul Rusesabagina. Left: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File. Right: AP (Andrew Harnik, Associated Press)

SAN ANTONIO – U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is urging the Rwandan government to release Paul Rusesabagina, the hero who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda.”

Rusesabagina lived in exile in San Antonio before he was captured on an overseas trip in 2020, and was held in a Rwandan prison and later convicted of terror charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September.

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Since then, U.S. politicians, actors and human rights activists have urged the Rwandan government to free Rusesabagina, now 68, who is credited with sheltering a group of Huti and Tutsi refugees at his hotel during the 1994 genocide.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass H. Res. 892, calling for his release.

Castro, who authorized the resolution with Congresswoman Young Kim, of California, said Rusesabagina’s capture was “a clear effort to silence his criticism of President Paul Kagame’s regime.”

“Mr. Rusesabagina is a cancer survivor in poor health, and he needs better medical care than Rwandan authorities are providing,” Castro said. “If President Kagame and the Rwandan government want to rebuild their credibility on the international stage, they must start by sending Mr. Rusesabagina back home to his family in San Antonio.”

Rusesabagina is a well-known critic of the Rwandan president over alleged rights abuses, according to the Associated Press.

Rusesabagina left Rwanda in 1996, and he and his family received asylum in Belgium. They later moved to San Antonio.

Former President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, a year after “Hotel Rwanda” was released.

In 2020, he disappeared during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and appeared in Rwanda in handcuffs days later, according to the Associated Press. He was accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, though he said he formed the group to help refugees.

Actor Don Cheadle, who portrayed Rusesabagina in the movie, has also urged the man’s release.

“I am asking President Kagame that you extend the grace that you’ve shown to me and my family to Paul and his family now,” Cheadle said at an event in April. “Please lead with mercy.”

Rusesabagina’s family and supporters have said that his health has worsened over the years.

His daughter, Anaïse Kanimba, thanked the House of Representatives and others who have supported the family over the years.

“This overwhelming show of support from the US House of Representatives will mean the world to our father, and again demonstrates that the US will not stand quietly in the face of the wrongful detention of those who call America home,” she said.

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Rebecca Salinas has worked in digital news for more than 10 years and joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.