Rwandan President Paul Kagame told reporters the United States could not bully him into releasing a prisoner and would have to invade his country first.
“We will make it clear: There isn’t anybody going to come from anywhere to bully us into something to do with our lives and we accept it,” Kagame told reporters from Semafor at the U.S.-Africa summit on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
“Maybe make an invasion and overrun the country – you can do that,” he continued.
Kagame made the comments about Paul Rusesabagina, 68, the real-life former manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines that housed over 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, all of whom survived.
Portrayed by Don Cheadle in the acclaimed “Hotel Rwanda” film, many hail Rusesabagina as a hero, but the Rwandan government accused and convicted him of terrorism in Sept. 2021. He is serving a 25-year sentence.
Rusesabagina has denied all charges. He admits he is a leader in the country’s Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) but said he is not affiliated the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed wing accused of violent crimes.
The former hotelier is also a permanent U.S. resident and Belgian citizen who has been an outspoken critic of the Kagame regime, something his family said has made him a target.
“Kagame has been after my father since the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ came out. When my father received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kagame also increased his attacks on him,” Anaise Kanimba told ABC News. “My father had to wear a bulletproof jacket every time he had to give a speech.”
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In a 2010 interview with the South Florida Times, Rusesabagina said it was his duty to stand up for truth and justice.
“I have made it my mission and I know it’s a hard mission, but someone somewhere has got to stand up and stand for the truth and that person is me,” Rusesabagina said. “I have learned to believe in the power of words. Because of what I went through I know that silence about injustice is ugliness.”
He vowed he would never return to his homeland of Rwanda. However, Rusesabagina’s family claims he was tricked into flying back home to Kigali under the guise that he was taking a plane from Dubai to Burundi.
ABC News reported that a Burundian pastor, Constantin Niyomwungere admitted to deceiving Rusesabagina into taking the plane back to Rwanda.
“Myself, the pilot and cabin crew knew we were coming to Kigali,” Niyomwungere reportedly told Kigali’s high court in March 2021. “The only person who didn’t know where we were headed was Paul.”
The United States has classified Rusesabagina as a wrongfully detained prisoner who was the victim of an unfair trial. American officials are calling upon Kagame to release him.
“The Department of State continues to engage the Government of Rwanda at high levels in Kigali and through their Ambassador in the United States on this matter,” a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told Reuters.
However, Kagame implied U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s advocacy for Rusesabagina is hurting him more than helping him.
“I think from what I am saying you can conclude [it’s not],” Kagame answered when asked how Blinken calling the trial unfair was affecting his decision.
Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda”, wears a pink prison uniform as he arrives for a bail hearing at a court in the capital Kigali, Rwanda on Sept. 25, 2020. Rights activists and others are urging Rwandan authorities to free Rusesabagina, saying his health is failing after an appeals court upheld his 25-year jail term for terror offenses. Some activists who spoke during an online event Wednesday, April 13, 2022 said the U.S. could do more to free the 67-year-old recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP Photo/Muhizi Olivier, File)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the President’s Office in Urugwiro Village in Kigali, Rwanda, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Blinken is on a ten day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)