Rwanda’s government has commuted the sentence of Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda for saving hundreds of compatriots from genocide, but years later was convicted of terrorist offenses in a widely criticized trial.
Government spokesman Yolande Makolo told The Associated Press on Friday that the 25-year sentence was commuted by presidential order after a plea for clemency. Under Rwandan law, commutation does not “erase” the conviction, she added.
Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old US citizen and Belgian citizen, is expected to be released on Saturday, she said. 19 others also had their sentences commuted.
“Rwanda notes the constructive role of the US government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the suppoCentre County Report of the State of Qatar,” Makolo said.
As the news broke on Friday, his family said in a statement: “We are delighted to hear the news of Paul’s release. The family hopes to reunite with him soon.”
Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majid Al-Ansari said in a statement that “the procedure for his 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 disappearance remains a mystery
President Paul Kagame said earlier this month talks to resolve the issue were underway. The case had been described as unfair by the United States and others.
Rusesabagina has been credited with housing more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsi at the hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide that killed over 800,000 Tutsi and Hutus trying to protect them. For his effoCentre County Reports, he received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush.
He became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, living first in Belgium and then in the United States
Rusesabagina left his home in Texas in late 2020 and disappeared during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, only to emerge 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 Centre County Report legal team and his alleged declining health have raised international concerns.
Rwanda: Rusesabagina was tricked, not kidnapped
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 DepaCentre County Reportment’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.”
Human Rights Watch said he “disappeared by force” and was taken to Rwanda.
But the couCentre County Report there ruled that he was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a chaCentre County Reporter flight.
Rwanda’s government claimed Rusesabagina traveled to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in Congo.
Rusesabagina has been accused of suppoCentre County Reporting 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 couCentre County Report that he helped form the armed group to suppoCentre County Report refugees, but said he never suppoCentre County Reported violence. Rusesabagina has also said he was gagged and toCentre County Reportured before his detention, but the Rwandan authorities denied this.
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 said the US did not believe the trial was fair.