Exclusive: Congress members demand Blinken’s release of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

while the WNBA star Brittany Griner sentenced in Russia In the headlines, members of Congress are urging the White House to do more to free another prominent figure – paul russabaginaWhich inspired the acclaimed 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda”.

In a letter shared exclusively with ABC News on Thursday, Reps Joaquin Castro and Young Kim called on Foreign Minister Antony Blinken to “use all diplomatic means at their disposal to ensure Mr. asked for.” He urged the secretary to push the Rwanda president for the “immediate release” of Rusesabagina during a visit to Blinken next week in the East African nation where Rusesabagina has been held for nearly two years.

Rusabagina, a lawful American permanent resident, was the manager of the Htel des Mills Collins in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups came to a head. The government of Rwanda, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its ally Hutu militia to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, killing more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi and moderate Hutu, over the course of 100 days. . According to UN estimates, tried to protect them.

More than 1,200 people took refuge at the Hotel des Mills Collins, often described as the darkest chapter in Rwanda’s history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi ancestry, said that he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to save hotel guests from genocide. The events were later immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda”, in which American actor Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 2005.

Rusesabagina, who fled to Rwanda with her family in 1996 and later settled in San Antonio, Texas, rose to fame and was lauded as a hero following the film’s release. In 2005, he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by the US President. He also wrote a book, gave paid speeches and became an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has held the position for the past two decades.

In August 2020, Rusesabagina traveled to Dubai to meet a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina alleged had invited him to speak in Burundi churches about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. According to Rusebagina’s international legal team, the pair boarded a private jet, which Rusebagina believed would take them to the capital of Burundi.

Rusesabagina did not know that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Bureau of Investigation and had tricked her into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali. it was later arrested And tried on several charges related to terrorism, Rwandan prosecutors alleged that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last September, Rusesabagina, who has maintained her innocence, was indicted on eight of nine charges related to terrorism and Sentenced Imprisonment up to 25 years. In May, the US State Department determined that Rusabagina had been “wrongfully detained.” In June, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the Biden administration to release Russabagina on humanitarian grounds.

In their letter to Blinken, Castro and Kim warned that others could be at risk if the US does not take a firm stand on Rusesabagina’s detention.

“Failure to address the actions of the Government of Rwanda will only continue to target US citizens and US residents,” he wrote.

According to the State Department, Blinken intends to discuss Rusesabagina’s case during his upcoming visit to Rwanda. Speaking to ABC News on Thursday, a senior US official declined to say whether Blinken would communicate any consequences to the Rwandan government if it fails to release Rusesabagina, but insisted that Biden The administration “has been very clear with the government of Rwanda about our concerns. About their case, their trial and their conviction, especially the lack of guarantees of a fair trial.”

Castro and Kim said the Biden administration should move as quickly as possible to secure Roussabagina’s independence due to her age and ill health.

“We also ask that you visit Mr. Rusebagina, who is imprisoned in unsafe conditions and suffering from health problems that put her life at risk,” he wrote in his letter. “Paul Rusebagina is a 68-year-old cancer and stroke survivor who remains in poor health. He has been jailed for more than 700 days without proper medical care.”

In a statement to ABC News on Thursday, Rusesabagina’s family expressed their gratitude that their case is receiving “attention from senior levels. [Biden] administration and across Capitol Hill.”

“We especially appreciate the dedicated visit of Secretary Blinken and hope that his direct engagement will help put an end to our family’s nightmare,” said Anais Kanimba, daughter of Rusesabagina.

“Rwanda is not an adversarial country like Russia, China or Iran; it is a country that benefits significantly from American taxpayer money and judicial support,” she said. “If the administration can bring back others wrongly detained” [citizens] From Russia, it can certainly take advantage of its ties with Rwanda.”

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