On March 24th, 2023; the government of Rwanda through its Minisiter of Justice, informed the public of the upcoming release of political prisoners sentenced over charges related to military attacks by the rebel movement FLN (Forces de Libération Nationale), the armed wing of the MRCD (Mouvement Rwandais pour le Changement Démocratique). Paul Rusesabagina is said to be among those to be released. While the government of Rwanda is advancing the presidential grace a the sole reason of this release, diffferent observers think that foreign governments might have played a key role in brokering the deal to set free Rusesabagina. Here is what is known on this case.
In August 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, a belgian citizen and US permanent resident boarded a plane he believed was heading to Bujumbura, Burundi, where he was expected to deliver key speeches in conferences on peace and reconciliation. It is believed that he was drugged, and slept to wake up at Kigali International airport where he was arrested immediately. He was held incommunicado for about ten days before he was presented to media. The Government of Rwanda kept changing versions of what really happened but all brought to conclude that the illegal rendition was masterminded, financed and operated on orders from Paul Kagame himself. Rusesabagina was accused to have formed armed group that aimed at dethrowing Paul Kagame. Along with dozens of former FLN’s combatants, including the movement’s Spokesperson illegally arrested and deported from the Comoros, Rusesabagina faced the court action under what was seen as sham trial. He was sentenced to 25 years.
Numerous NGO’s have expressed their disagreement with the way Rusesabagina was brought to Rwanda. Rwanda and the US government had established channels of extradition in criminal cases, and many persons wanted by Rwanda were already deported by the US authorities. Circumventing existing cooperation venues sent waves of anger on behalf of the US goverment which promised to do whatever it would take to bring back home Paul Rusesabagina. In August 2022, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken flew to Kigali with a clear message to ask the release of Rusesabagina. Kagame hinted that pressure does not work on him.
In December 2022 in the US, Kagame was asked when he would release Rusesabagina and vowed to never do that and jokingly said “unless the US invaded Rwanda”. Some months after, KAGAME changed his mind and said it could be possible.
Conditions of release
Close friends of Rusesabagina’s family saw it coming. In fact, family members were told to not comment on the case anymore pending the release, and possibly in future. As for Rusesabagina, we hear he was instructed to quit politics, to leave Rwanda and not return, and to stay in the US for the remainder of his days. In his words, Rusesabagina wrote to Kagame:
“If I am granted a pardon and released, I understand fully that I will spend the remainder of my days in the United States in quiet reflection. I can assure you through this letter that I hold no personal or political ambitions otherwise. I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me.”
Lessons to learn
On each move made by Paul Kagame, the world gets to understand what might be motivating his actions: the obsession to dwindle and humiliate his opponents. Puting aside procedural incongruencies in his arrest and prosecution, Rusesabagina could have been released on humanitarian grounds. For instance, he is a cancer survivor and has many other health issues impossible to live with in Rwanda’s correctional facilities. This would have sufficed to set free the Hotel Rwanda hero. Yet, Kagame has insisted that Rusesabagina write a letter in which he must mention that “he is humbly requesting pardon”, and that he gives up his political ambitions. However, Rwanda’s Constitution provides for every citizen to unapologetically give their contibution in national politics.
Notwithstanding his situation, Rusesabagina did not miss the opportunity to tackle Kagame and his RPF. Condemning the violence, he said :
“First, to be clear, I do not condone violence. Violence is never acceptable, including the use of violence to achieve political aims. Violence as a political tool is plainly wrong and more grievously so when used to target civilians. I abhor any violence committed against civilians, wheter by FLN or other groups, which I have and will continue to publicly condemn. The loss of a single huma life is always deeply regrettable”
One can recall that the RPF achieved political power through bloodshed in unprecedented violence that claimed millions of civilian lives.
It is believed that Rusesabagina will be released no later than March 25th, 2023 along with 18 co-accused. In the meantime, the FLN struggle is still alive and the RPF keeps saying “No” to the inter-rwandan dialogue requested by the opposition to resolve peacefully the nation’s political issues.
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