From Pitts­burgh to soli­tary con­fine­ment

Leopold Mun­yakazi fled from Rwanda to Pitts­burgh in 2004. Af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment, he was de­ported and sen­tenced to life in soli­tary, re­ports free­lance writer BILL ZLATOS

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Forum - Bill Zlatos is a free­lance writer liv­ing in Ross (bil­l­

Leopold Mun­yakazi, a former Pitts­burgh res­i­dent who taught at a sub­ur­ban high school, was con­victed of geno­cide-re­lated crimes three weeks ago and sen­tenced to live out his life in soli­tary con­fine­ment in Rwanda. He has been, by some ac­counts, tor­tured.

But friends and cer­tain Africa ex­perts con­sider the charges al­most cer­tainly false. In Septem­ber, Mr. Mun­yakazi lost a nearly 10-year bat­tle to gain po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in the United States and avoid de­por­ta­tion be­cause he be­lieved, per­haps naively, that liv­ing in Amer­ica would save him from the 7,000-mile grasp of Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent — some would say dic­ta­tor — Paul Kagame.

Mr. Mun­yakazi and his fam­ily are not the only losers here. Also los­ing are free speech, aca­demic free­dom and other po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents who run afoul of Mr. Kagame.

Mr. Mun­yakazi’s friend, Chris­tine Frechard, who lives in High­land Park, talked to him be­fore he boarded the plane back to Rwanda. “I met two he­roes in my life, and he is one of them,” she said, the other be­ing Chi­nese poet and dis­si­dent Huang Xiang. “They both fought non­sense in the coun­try where they were born. A hur­ri­cane tries to knock them down, but they stay steady.”

Rwanda is a na­tion of about 12 mil­lion peo­ple in East Africa. In 1994, the plane car­ry­ing its Hutu pres­i­dent was shot down, killing all aboard and spark­ing 100 days of ter­ror in which about 800,000 Tut­sis and Hutu mod­er­ates were killed, mostly by Hutu ex­trem­ists.

The pre­dom­i­nately Tutsi army of the Rwan­dan Pa­tri­otic Front, led by the Amer­i­can-trained Mr. Kagame, stopped the blood­shed and cloaked it­self in the man­tle of hero­ism for end­ing geno­cide, with all Tut­sis good and all Hu­tus evil. The West, re­morse­ful for ig­nor­ing the mass mur­der, tends to ac­cept this ar­gu­ment. Rwanda gets about 40 per­cent of its rev­enue from for­eign aid, in­clud­ing $2 bil­lion since 2007 from the United States.

Two years ago, Rwanda pub­lished a list of geno­cide sus­pects liv­ing abroad, in­clud­ing Mr. Mun­yakazi, and au­tho­rized con­fis­ca­tion of their prop­erty. Ti­mothy Long­man, an Africa scholar from Bos­ton Univer­sity, said some sus­pects may have been in­volved in geno­cide, but many were not.

Mr. Mun­yakazi’s case shows how closely the gov­ern­ment tracks Rwan­dans abroad, ac­cus­ing many of geno­cide and “hence jus­ti­fy­ing things like seiz­ing their prop­er­ties,” Mr. Long­man wrote in an email.

Pres­i­dent or vice-pres­i­dent since 1994, Mr. Kagame helped stop the mas­sacre, re­store or­der and re­duce cor­rup­tion. Nev­er­the­less, Rwanda un­der his lead­er­ship has killed or tried to kill nu­mer­ous crit­ics, at home and abroad, ac­cord­ing to Toronto’s Globe and Mail. The regime so dis­dains hu­man rights that protests erupted in re­ac­tion to the 2011 de­ci­sion of Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity to open a cam­pus in the Rwan­dan cap­i­tal, Ki­gali.

Mr. Mun­yakazi, 67, was born a Hutu and mar­ried a Tutsi

with whom he has five chil­dren. He speaks English, French and Kin­yarwanda and holds a doc­tor­ate in lin­guis­tics and pho­net­ics. He was im­pris­oned with­out charges like many Hutu men af­ter the geno­cide. Re­leased five years later, he was cleared to teach at a pub­lic univer­sity and given a pass­port, which he used to seek po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in the United States.

Mr. Mun­yakazi ar­rived in Pitts­burgh in 2004 and at first lived and worked in High­land Park as a waiter. In 2005-2006, he taught French in the High­lands School District, and later went on to teach at Mont­clair State Univer­sity in New Jersey and Goucher Col­lege out­side of Bal­ti­more.

Here Mr. Mun­yakazi’s story takes a nasty turn. At pub­lic de­bates, he chal­lenged the of­fi­cial ver­sion of the 1994 blood­shed. Mr. Mun­yakazi called it a civil war and frat­ri­cide, but not geno­cide. De­nial of geno­cide is a crime in Rwanda.

Rwanda soon charged him with geno­cide de­nial and with geno­cide. A crew from a CBS re­al­ity show popped up at Goucher ask­ing why the col­lege had hired a killer. Goucher sus­pended him, and the United States be­gan de­por­ta­tion hear­ings.

Pro­claim­ing his in­no­cence, Mr. Mun­yakazi said he helped save five Tut­sis by ar­rang­ing for false doc­u­ments iden­ti­fy­ing them as Hu­tus. Sev­eral Rwanda ex­perts, though not with Mr. Mun­yakazi dur­ing the geno­cide, pre­sume his in­no­cence be­cause of the time­line.

“I can’t imag­ine some­one in [Rwanda], re­leased from jail, hired by the state-led univer­sity and then no­body charg­ing him with any­thing,” said Noel Twa­gi­ra­mungu, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Low­ell and a former stu­dent of Mr. Mun­yakazi’s. “The new charges were fab­ri­cated, as were the ones for which he was ar­rested in 1994. The mo­tive would be be­cause he was speak­ing against the gov­ern­ment.”

Mr. Twa­gi­ra­mungu said the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment, re­ly­ing on the emo­tion­ally sear­ing mem­o­ries of geno­cide, in­vents charges of geno­cide to si­lence crit­ics and pun­ish op­po­nents. A former leader of a hu­man rights group in Rwanda, he fled the coun­try af­ter death threats.

Su­san M. Thom­son, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of peace and con­flict stud­ies at Col­gate Univer­sity, calls Mr. Mun­yakazi the vic­tim of a “smear cam­paign” and his de­por­ta­tion a “moral fail­ure.” Years ear­lier, Rwanda had sent Ms. Thom­son to a re-ed­u­ca­tion camp be­cause of a crit­i­cal book she had writ­ten. She later re­ceived a veiled death threat.

Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates fear that Mr. Mun­yakazi’s de­por­ta­tion to face charges will fur­ther em­bolden Rwanda to man­u­fac­ture false ac­cu­sa­tions against dis­si­dents.

“Why wouldn’t they if it seems to work?” wrote Filip Reyn­t­jens of the Univer­sity of An­twerp in an email. He may be the first aca­demic Rwanda de­clared “per­sona non grata” af­ter a “mod­er­ately crit­i­cal” memo in 1994.

The non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Free­dom House ranks Rwanda as “not free” for sup­press­ing dis­sent and civil lib­er­ties. Due to doubts that fair tri­als can be held in Rwanda, France and Great Bri­tain refuse to ex­tra­dite sus­pects ac­cused of crimes in Rwanda. The United States and Canada do.

News of Mun­yakazi’s ver­dict sad­dens Ofe­lia Calderon, an im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­ney in Fair­fax, Va., who de­fended him for free. His de­por­ta­tion still gnaws at her. She won­ders what else she could have done to save him.

Be­fore the court pro­nounced his life sen­tence last month, she pre­dicted a grim fate for her client: “He’ll have a fake trial, and then he’ll be found guilty, and then he’ll be tor­tured and killed,” Ms. Calderon said. “He’ll be killed ei­ther of­fi­cially or unof­fi­cially.”

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle last year in The Rwan­dan, au­thor­i­ties in­jected him with a poi­son that weak­ened his rea­son­ing. The re­sult, the news­pa­per con­cluded: The af­fa­ble in­tel­lec­tual spends his time “danc­ing like any­one whois men­tally ill.”


Leopold Mun­yakazi ar­rives in Rwanda last year to face charges of geno­cide and deny­ing geno­cide af­ter be­ing de­ported from the United States.

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