The former hotel manager, portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, is set to be released from prison after his 25-year sentence on terrorism-related charges was reduced.
Paul Rusesabagina, played by US actor Don Cheadle in the Oscar-nominated 2004 film, has been credited with saving the lives of more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsi after sheltering them at the hotel during the Rwanda genocide a decade earlier had that he directed.
The 68-year-old received the US President’s Medal of Freedom for his efforts.
Mr. Rusesabagina became a public critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, living first in Belgium and then in the US.
In 2020, he disappeared while visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and turned up handcuffed in Rwanda days later.
His family say he was kidnapped and taken to the east African country against his will to stand in a widely criticized trial.
He was later convicted of eight charges, including Membership in a terrorist organizationmurder and kidnapping.
Mr Rusesabagina, a US resident and Belgian national, said his arrest was in response to his criticism of Mr Kagame over alleged human rights abuses.
Mr Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.
The circumstances surrounding Mr Rusesabagina’s arrest, his limited access to an independent legal team and his alleged deteriorating health have raised international concerns, with the US and other countries calling the case unfair.
His 25-year sentence has now been commuted — or reduced — by a presidential order after a plea for clemency, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said on Friday.
She added that Mr Rusesabagina is due to be released on Saturday.
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“Rwanda notes the constructive role of the US government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the support of the State of Qatar,” Ms. Makolo added.
Under Rwandan law, commutation does not “erase” the conviction, she added.
In a signed letter to Mr Kagame dated October 14 and published on the Justice Department’s website, Mr 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 will spend in peace contemplation.
“I can assure you through this letter that I otherwise have no personal or political ambitions. I will put questions about Rwandan politics behind me.”
Human Rights Watch said Mr Rusesabagina “violently disappeared” and was taken to Rwanda in 2020.
But the court there ruled that he was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a charter flight.
Rwanda’s government claimed Mr Rusesabagina traveled to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in Congo.
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Mr Rusesabagina was 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.
Mr Rusesabagina testified in court that he helped form the armed group to help refugees, but said he never supported violence – and tried to distance himself from their deadly attacks.
He has also said he was gagged and tortured before being detained, but Rwandan authorities have denied this.
Last year US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Mr Kagame in Rwanda and discussed the case.
“We are still convinced that the trial was not fair,” Mr Blinken told journalists.