Rwanda has been accused of being one of the worst perpetrators of “transnational repression” in the United States, stalking, harassing and threatening exiles there, according to a new report.
The report by advocacy group Freedom House in Washington names Rwanda, alongside China, Russia, Iran and Egypt, as major offenders seeking to extend the reach of their repressive regimes to the United States. United.
Isabel Linzer, one of the report’s authors, said the findings raise new questions about the UK government’s deal with Kigali to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. The first deportation flight is scheduled for June 14.
“People often focus on Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia, but Rwanda is one of the most prolific perpetrators of transnational repression in the world,” Linzer said. “And it certainly hasn’t received the same level of scrutiny as some of these other countries.
“The UK-Rwanda asylum deal is quite shocking given how often the Rwandan government attacks Rwandans in the UK and the UK government is well aware of that,” he said. -she adds.
Freedom House’s report, Unsafe in America: Transnational Repression in the United States, notes that attacks on exiles have occurred since the Cold War, but adds that “operations by foreign intelligence operatives have escalated dramatically in recent years. last years “.
“Autocrats cast a long shadow on American soil,” he says. “The governments of Iran, China, Egypt, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and other states are increasingly aggressively ignoring U.S. laws to threaten, harass, monitor, stalking and even plotting to physically harm people across the country.”
One of those targeted was Paul Rusesabagina, the former Kigali hotel manager whose efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide are chronicled in the film Hotel Rwanda.
Rusesabagina, a US permanent resident and prominent dissident, was abducted while traveling in the Middle East in August 2020, tricked into boarding a private plane that took him to Rwanda, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last month, the US State Department officially declared him “wrongfully detained”.
It was discovered that Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine, and other Rwandan dissidents were the targets of surveillance using Pegasus spyware from Israeli security firm NSO Group.
The Rwandan government denied using the spyware but did not respond to a request for comment on the Freedom House report.
Rwandan opposition figures in the United States speak of constant surveillance, harassment and threats.
“You understand that this is part of your life,” said Theogene Rudasingwa, former chief of staff to President Paul Kagame, who was once Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States and is now a staunch critic of Kagame’s regime. “My wife is constantly scared. My children are constantly afraid, especially for me. Every time I leave the house, they are nervous. I have determined that I cannot be paralyzed and live in fear 24/7, but the feeling of being a hunted person is around me 24/7,” Rudasingwa told the Guardian.
Three months ago he said he walked out of his local bank to be told by a passerby that he saw someone go under his car. Rudasingwa called the police who carried out a search for three hours but found nothing, possibly because the intruder had been disturbed.
Rudasingwa was the target of an assassination plot in Belgium in 2015, which failed when he postponed a planned trip there. Following the killing of fellow opposition leader, former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, in South Africa in 2013 – a killing widely believed to have been ordered in Kigali – the State Department advised Rudasingwa to take extra precautions.
“They told me they had contacted Kigali to warn them not to try to do this stuff here in the United States,” he told the Guardian.
In March this year, the FBI launched a transnational law enforcement website with tips on how to report incidents, part of a broader campaign by the administration to address the growing threat.
“Transnational repression is used not only to harm or threaten dissidents, journalists, activists and members of the diaspora, but also to silence entire communities,” a National Security Council spokesperson said.
“Our intention is to use the full range of tools and resources at our disposal to protect and build support for individuals and communities who are targeted, and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
However, Claude Gatebuke, another Rwandan activist who has received repeated anonymous threats, said many members of the diaspora do not report harassment due to Washington’s close diplomatic relationship with Kigali.
“Part of the reason people won’t talk is because they know the Rwandan government has a very close relationship with the US government, and by sharing information they think they’re tell themselves,” Gatebuke told the Freedom House authors. .
Prominent members of Congress have also expressed unease at Washington’s embrace of Kagame. After the head of the US Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, published photos of him posing alongside the Rwandan president, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Republican, James Risch, warned that relations bilateral “face serious complications”.
“Describing otherwise is counter-productive and undermines [state department] messages on other major diplomatic concerns”, Risch wrote on Twitter.
“I am always sensitive to the fact that there is this level of interaction at the intelligence level, at the FBI level, from senior officials who always go to Kigali as if it is their mecca,” Rudasingwa said. “How can I say I am safe sharing sensitive information with them? So sometimes you keep it to yourself.
“No one ever calls Kagame. No one is holding him accountable,” he added. “They give this occasional slap on the wrist, but then you see the UK sending refugees there. So where would you find the courage to call him when he does you a favor? »