By Paul Blezard
Britney Spears and… Paul Rusesabagina?
Yes, it’s an eye-catching headline isn’t it?
What on earth could the influential Grammy award-winning, singer, songwriter, dancer and actress, who inspired an explosion in teen pop in the late 1990’s, have in common with the Rwandan genocide survivor, who stood up to murderous brutality and saved the lives of more than 1200 people?
The clear and immediate answer would appear to be “very little.” Perhaps varying levels of public profile, Spears through in excess of 100 million record sales globally and all the press, film, interviews and coverage that such impact generates, Rusesabagina through the Hotel Rwanda film depicting his heroism and Don Cheadle’s pitch-perfect portrayal of him. Spears has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rusesabagina was awarded the highest honour the United States can bestow on civilians, the Presidential Medal of Honour.
And that would seem to be the sum total of intersections — however flimsy — between two very different people, two utterly unconnected lives. But that would be very wrong.
As we are learning from the current hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom, the “Princess of Pop” has been living under a court-ordered conservatorship since 2008. This granted control of the 27-year old Spears’ personal and business life to her father, who seems to have taken ‘control’ to mean ‘absolute control’.
Speaking in open court, Spears, now aged 39, made an emotional address to the court and outlined the lack of control she has, and has had, over her own life, explaining that the conservatorship was preventing her from marrying her boyfriend, preventing her from having children she would like to have, preventing her from having an IUD removed, forcing her to take a lithium treatment and more.
This is the first time that Spears has publically commented on the conservatorship, the prior silence leading vast throngs of Britney fans to pivot to a #FreeBritney movement. Her testimony was heartbreaking and troubling. She is evidently a woman who is desperate to reclaim the basic freedom of determining her own life through her own decisions.
And here’s where her life and that of Paul Rusesabagina’s converge.
Rusesabagina has also had any control of his own life, any freedom to take his own decisions, abruptly removed from him. Not through a legal conservatorship, but through an illegal kidnapping, a sham trial based on false and unsubstantiated accusations, and worse, through torture and malicious incarceration.
While Britney’s ‘captor’ is her father who claims to be acting in her best interests, Paul’s captor is the tyrant, General Paul Kagame, current President of Rwanda, who is himself facing increasing allegations of mass murder, despotic control of a country and who silences opposition to him through state-sanctioned killings, both within Rwanda and further afield. He is acting unlawfully and in contravention of international human rights. He has no care or concern for Rusesabagina’s welfare or rights, let alone his interests.
Kagame is controlling every aspect of Rusesabagina’s life, limiting phone calls to his family to 5 minutes a week and ensuring that the calls are listened in on to ensure that Rusesabagina doesn’t say anything critical. He is restricting Rusesabagina’s food to one meal a day, water to one cup a day. A 67-year-old cancer survivor who has other serious health issues, even the medicine he desperately needs is being withheld as part of the controlling environment he is forced to endure.
Kagame has framed Rusesabagina as a terrorist, despite offering no evidence at all and in direct contradiction of Rusesabagina’s co-accused who have testified, on oath, that Rusesabagina is not, and never was or has been, any such thing.
To have one’s personal liberty removed is appalling in any situation and normally carefully limited to those who desperately need support from others or those who are proven guilty of crime. To have personal freedoms removed for anything less is a heinous and unpardonable situation.
The #FreeBritney movement has played a huge role in keeping her situation in public view and has ultimately led to Britney being able to speak of her situation, in her own words, unmediated.
The #FreeTheHero movement would truly welcome your support of its efforts to ensure the safety, liberty and life of Paul Rusesabagina.
His captor can be found on Twitter. A simple tweet of #FreeTheHero or #FreeRusesabagina, sent directly to @PaulKagame, would show him that he cannot remove the liberty of a true hero without the world watching and expressing outrage. Please do, it really does make a difference.
We very much hope for the best for Britney and we are working hard to gain the liberty of Paul Rusesabagina.
Perhaps, once they have both regained control of their lives, they might meet and compare notes on how it feels to have your life’s course steered according to someone else’s whims.
If so, perhaps the media will cover it with the headline “Britney Spears & Paul Rusesabagina.” It won’t look so oddly eye-catching then because you will already know what they have in common.
830 words © Paul Blezard 2021