‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Paul Rusesabagina to Be Released

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The Rwandan government has commuted the prison sentence of Paul Rusesabagina nearly three years after he was captured and detained.
Rusesabagina, once a hotel manager in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, is credited with saving hundreds of lives during the country’s 1994 genocide. His actions inspired the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda.”
A statement Friday from the Rwandan Ministry of Justice said sentences for several individuals, including Rusesabagina, “have been commuted by presidential order after consideration of their requests for clemency.”
The 68-year-old Rwandan hotelier-turned-dissident has been jailed in Rwanda since August 2020, when a plane he believed was headed for Burundi instead landed in Kigali.
After he left the plane, he was tried and convicted on a slew of terrorism-related charges the following year, over his ties to an organization opposed to President Paul Kagame’s rule.
Rusesabagina has U.S. permanent residency rights, and the U.S. government has described him as “wrongly detained,” in part because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees.
According to media reports, Rwanda government spokesperson Stephanie Nyombayire confirmed to ABC News that Rusesabagina would be released from prison within 24 hours.

Why was Rusesabagina convicted?
Rusesabagina pledged his support for the National Liberation Front in a video released in 2018. The armed group is considered a terrorist organization by Rwanda’s government.
“The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed,” he stated in the video.
Rusesabagina, a Belgian national and a US green card holder, was arrested in 2020 after he disappeared during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He said he had planned to fly to Burundi, but the flight was diverted to Rwanda.
The Rwandan government put him on trial for being an enemy of the state, a move criticized by the United States and the United Nations.
His political supporters denounced the trial as a political sham. Rusesabagina denied all the accusations and refused to take part in the trial.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021 for charges including murder, abduction, and terrorism.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held talks with Kagame in Rwanda last year and discussed the case.
“We still have conviction that the trial wasn’t fair,” Blinken told the press at the time.
What comes next?
The government’s announcement of Rusesabagina’s imminent release came after the inmate sent a letter to Kagame last October requesting clemency.
“If I am granted a pardon and released, I understand fully that I will spend the remainder of my days in the United States in quiet reflection,” he wrote. “I can assure you through this letter that I hold no personal or political ambitions otherwise.”
President Kagame had hinted earlier this month that talks were being held to resolve the case.
“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,” Yolande Makolo, a government spokesperson, said.
The government of Qatar announced that Rusesabagina would fly to Doha after his release, then the United States.

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