Hotel Rwanda Hero, Paul Rusesabagina Sets Free
Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda and was serving a 25-year sentence in the country on “terrorism” charges, has been freed from prison after having his sentence commuted by presidential order.
Rusesabagina, 68, was accompanied by a United States embassy official as he was moved from prison to the residence of Qatar’s ambassador in the Rwandan capital Kigali late on Friday, according to two senior officials of US President Joe Biden’s administration who briefed reporters in Washington, DC.
The decision to commute Rusesabagina’s sentence followed his “request for clemency,” government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told Al Jazeera on Friday.
But “no one should be under any illusion about what this means as there is consensus that serious crimes were committed, for which they were convicted,” Makolo said. Under Rwandan law, commutation “does not extinguish the underlying conviction.” she said.
Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, is expected to be transferred to Qatar’s capital Doha and then to the US, Majid Al-Ansari, spokesperson of Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Al Jazeera on Friday. Rusesabagina has permanent residency rights in the US.
“The procedure for his transfer … is under way,” Al-Ansari said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement welcoming the release, although US officials said there were no promises made to Kigali beyond public recognition of their move.@” Blinken said.
“We also thank the government of Qatar for their valuable assistance that will enable Paul’s return to the United States.”
Rusesabagina was sentenced in 2021 to a 25-year prison term for being part of a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks – charges he denied. He refused to participate in his trial, which he and his supporters called a “sham.”
He had suddenly reappeared in Rwanda in August 2020 after years of living in exile. Rusesabagina had boarded a plane in Dubai, believing it was taking him to Burundi but the flight brought him to Kigali instead.
“This law.” The US designated him as “wrongly detained,” partly because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees in Rwanda.
Then-Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye later admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera that Rwanda did pay for the plane that transported Rusesabagina.
“Rusesabagina’s release would conclude a case that has highlighted Rwanda’s blatant disregard for international norms when it seeks to target people deemed an enemy of the state – even those far beyond their border,” the Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, Lewis Mudge said.
Aljazeera /Shakirat Sadiq