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HomeWorld'Hotel Rwanda' hero, Paul Rusesabagina, to be freed

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero, Paul Rusesabagina, to be freed

KIGALI, Rwanda –

The Rwandan government has commuted the 25-year sentence of Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda for saving hundreds of compatriots from genocide but was convicted of terrorism-related offenses years later in a widely criticized trial.

Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told The Associated Press on Friday that the president’s order came after a clemency plea and Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old US resident and Belgian national, is expected to be released on Saturday. 19 others also had their sentences commuted. Under Rwandan law, commutation does not “erase” the conviction, Makolo added.

“Rwanda notes the constructive role of the US government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by the State of Qatar,” she said. President Paul Kagame said earlier this month talks to resolve the issue were underway.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majid Al-Ansari said in a statement that “the procedure for[Rusesabagina’s]transfer to the State of Qatar is underway and he will then travel to the United States of America. This issue was discussed at meetings bringing together Qatari and Rwandan officials at the highest level.”

The case had been called unfair by the United States and others. Rusesabagina disappeared while visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2020, and turned up handcuffed in Rwanda days later. His family claimed he was abducted and taken to Rwanda against his will to face trial.

He was convicted of eight charges, including membership of a terrorist organization, murder and kidnapping. But the circumstances of his arrest, his limited access to an independent legal team and his alleged declining health have raised international concerns.

Rusesabagina has claimed his arrest was in response to his criticism of Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.

In a signed Oct. 14 letter to Kagame posted on the Justice Department’s website, Rusesabagina wrote, “If I am granted a pardon and released, I fully understand that I will spend the rest of my days in the United States in silence.” will spend reflection . I can assure you through this letter that I have no other personal or political ambitions. I will put questions about Rwandan politics behind me.”

Rusesabagina has been credited with housing more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus trying to protect them. For his efforts, he received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, living first in Belgium and then in the United States

Human Rights Watch said he “disappeared by force” and was taken to Rwanda. But the court there ruled that he was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a charter flight. Rwanda’s government claimed Rusesabagina traveled to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups stationed there and in Congo.

Rusesabagina has been accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The armed group claimed responsibility for attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that left nine Rwandans dead.

Rusesabagina testified in court that he helped form the armed group to support refugees, but said he never supported violence – and tried to distance himself from their deadly attacks.

Rusesabagina has also said he was gagged and tortured before his detention, but the Rwandan authorities denied this. His lawyer, Felix Rudakemwa, claimed that Rusesabagina’s legal papers had been confiscated by the prison authorities.

Following his sentencing, then-Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said that “one must conclude that Mr Rusesabagina did not receive a fair and just trial”.

Last year US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kagame in Rwanda and discussed the case. “We are still convinced that the trial was not fair,” Blinken told reporters.

“Secretary Blinken’s visit to Kigali in August, who was the senior officer to visit Rwanda, played a key role in advancing Paul’s eventual release,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to private discuss diplomatic talks. Blinken and Kagame “spoke a lot about the roadmap to Paul’s eventual release,” the official said.

As the news broke on Friday, Rusesabagina’s family said in a statement: “We are pleased to hear the news of Paul’s release. The family hopes to reunite with him soon.”


Anna reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Lujain Jo in Doha, Qatar and Matt Lee in Washington contributed.



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