Paul Rusesabagina, whose attempts to save people during the 1994 genocide served as the inspiration for the Hollywood film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and is a strong critic of the Rwandan regime has been released from prison after about 939 days in custody.
The Kigali government commuted Rusesabagina’s 25-year sentence for terrorism-related offenses; and he was released late on Friday out of the spotlight and will go back to the United States.
His detention had thrown a spotlight on Rwanda’s record of crushing political dissent and free speech under President Paul Kagame.
After a trial that his supporters criticized as being a fraud, Rusesabagina was found guilty in September 2021 of supporting an armed rebel group.
The 68-year-old, who is also a citizen of Belgium and has permanent citizenship in the United States, has deteriorating health. According to his family, he was tortured during his 939 days of detention.
Shortly before midnight Friday, Rusesabagina arrived at the Qatari ambassador’s residence in Kigali, a US official said.
He will likely stay there for “a couple of days” before flying to Qatar, which helped broker his release, and then to the United States, another US official said.
His sentence was commuted by presidential order, Justice Minister Emmanuel Ugirashebuja said in a statement, while 19 co-defendants also saw their sentences commuted.
But the minister warned: “Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction.”
US President Joe Biden welcomed Rusesabagina’s release, calling it a “happy outcome”.
“Paul’s family is eager to welcome him back to the United States; and I share their joy at today’s good news,” he said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday that the US was “grateful” to Rwanda for the release. Belgium also said it welcomed the move.