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Hotel Rwanda inspiration to be released from prison

The hotel manager who helped save a thousand people by sheltering them during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide has had a terrorism sentence commuted.

Hotel Rwanda inspiration to be freed The hotel manager whose heroism inspired Hotel Rwanda has had a terrorism sentence commuted.
March 25, 2023
By Philbert Girinema
25 March 2023

Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda and is serving a 25-year sentence on terrorism charges, will be released after his term was commuted, Rwanda’s government spokesperson says.

Friday’s announcement of his Saturday release follows intense diplomacy by the United States, where Rusesabagina has permanent residency rights. Historically close ties between the two countries have been strained over the case, and Rwanda’s alleged meddling in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rusesabagina was sentenced in September 2021 over his ties to an organisation opposed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s rule. He denied all the charges and refused to take part in the trial that he and his supporters called a political sham.

Washington designated him as “wrongly detained”, partly because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees.

The former hotelier’s release may help to ease tensions with the US, which has repeatedly called on Rwanda to cease its support of the M23 armed group and to withdraw its troops from neighbouring Congo. Rwanda denies any involvement in Congo.

Rusesabagina is expected to be released on Saturday alongside 19 others, whose sentences were likewise commuted by presidential order after requests for clemency, Rwanda’s government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told Reuters.

“Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction,” Makolo said.

“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.”

Rusesabagina will initially be flown to Doha, where his family may join him, and then on to the United States, the online media platform Semaphor reported.

Rusesabagina, a vocal critic of Kagame, acknowledged having a leadership role in an opposition group, the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), but denied responsibility for attacks carried out on Rwanda by its armed wing, the Forces for National Liberation (FLN).

The trial judges said the two wings of the group were indistinguishable.

“I regret not taking more care to ensure that members of the MRCD coalition fully adhered to the principles of non violence,” Rusesabagina wrote in an October 14 letter to Kagame, which was seen by Reuters.

“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.

Callixte Nsabimana, known by his alias Sankara, an FLN spokesman who was convicted by a Rwandan court of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking in 2019, will be among those who will be released, the spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, Kagame said there were discussions about “resolving” the fate of Rusesabagina.

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