‘Hotel Rwanda’ Man Released From Jail
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KIGALI/WASHINGTON (Worthy News) – The man whose role in saving more than 1,000 lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide inspired the film Hotel Rwanda has been released from prison, several officials confirmed Saturday.
Paul Rusesabagina, a former businessman, was freed after his 25-year sentence on “terrorism” charges was commuted by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Worthy News learned.
The 68-year-old U.S. resident and Belgian citizen was accompanied by an American embassy official while being moved from jail to the residence of Qatar’s ambassador in Kigali late Friday, White House officials said.
He was due to remain in Rwanda for several days before traveling to Doha and then to the U.S., according to several sources.
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Rusesabagina’s release, calling it a “happy outcome.”
Paul Rusesabagina became a hero during the 1994 Rwandan genocide when ruling Hutu majority extremists killed over 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 100 days.
Rusesabagina sheltered more than 1,000 vulnerable people, mostly Tutsis targeted by government extremists, in the Hotel des Mille Collines, where he worked as a manager.
MEDAL OF FREEDOM
In 2005, then-U.S. President George W. Bush awarded Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He received the award after the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda told his story as an example of heroism during one of the world’s worst single atrocities since World War Two.
Rusesabagina has since become a pro-democracy activist and vocal critic of the perceived authoritarian President Paul Kagame, who came to power after the collapse of the Hutu-led Rwandan government that backed the genocide.
He was arrested in August 2020 after being lured from the United States and tricked onto a private plane from Dubai that was supposed to fly to Burundi.
Instead, the plane flew to Rwanda, where he was detained and sentenced in September 2021 to 25 years in jail for “terrorism” over his ties to an organization opposed to Kagame’s rule.
He denied all charges and refused to participate in the trial, which he and his supporters called a political sham.
Rusesabagina and his supporters have said that Kagame made him a target after criticizing the government as repressive and undemocratic.
They accused the government of denying him fundamental human rights and refusing him access to legal counsel. The U.S. State Department also said Rusesabagina had been “wrongfully detained.”
After requests for clemency and mounting international pressure, President Kagame finally ordered his release. However, government spokesperson Yolande Makolo stressed that “commutation of the sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction.”
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majid Al-Ansari said Rusesabagina would first be transferred to Qatar.
“He will then head to the United States of America,” Al-Ansari said.
President Biden expressed appreciation for the news of Rusesabagina’s release. “Paul Rusesabagina by the government of Rwanda. Paul’s family is eager to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their joy at today’s good news,” Biden added in a statement.
“I thank the Rwandan government for making this reunion possible, and I also thank the government of Qatar for facilitating Paul’s release and return to the United States. I add my gratitude to those across the U.S. government who have worked with the government of Rwanda to achieve today’s happy outcome,” Biden said.
Analysts believe that the former hotelier’s release might help to ease Rwandan-U.S. tensions. Washington has repeatedly asked Rwanda to cease its support of the M23 armed group and to withdraw its troops from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Rwanda has denied military involvement in the DRC. The issue comes at a difficult moment for the United States as it seeks closer ties with Kagame amid growing regional instability and competition for influence in Africa from powers such as China.
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