Prominent human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina will be released from prison on Saturday after his 25-year sentence was commuted, Rwandan authorities said on Friday.
Rusesabagina, whose story was the subject of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” is credited with saving more than 1,000 lives during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.
His sentence was commuted by presidential order following requests for clemency, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said. Nineteen other people also had their sentences commuted.
The humanitarian and “real life hero”, according to the Human Rights Foundation, he was “arbitrarily imprisoned” in 2020 after being the victim of a kidnapping orchestrated by (the Rwandan government).”
Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, was kidnapped during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, according to his supporters and relatives. They say he would never have knowingly boarded a plane to go to Rwanda, a country he had not lived in since 1996.
In 2021, the 68-year-old Belgian citizen and US resident was convicted on eight counts, including murder and terrorism, for his links to an organization opposed to the Kagame regime.
Rusesabagina denied all charges and refused to take part in the trial, which his supporters called a sham. He also had limited contact with attorneys after his arrest.
Stephanie Nyombayire, Kagame’s press secretary, wrote on Twitter Friday afternoon that the commutation was the “result of a shared desire to restore the relationship between the US and Rwanda” and that “the close relationship between Rwanda and Qatar was key” in doing so.
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A Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman, Majid Al-Ansari, said in a statement that Rusesabagina’s transfer to Qatar is currently underway and he would then head to the US.
“This issue was discussed during meetings that brought together Qatari and Rwandan officials at the highest level,” he said.
“Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying sentence,” the Rwandan Ministry of Justice said in a statement. “If any individual who benefits from early release reoffends crimes of a similar nature, the commutation may be revoked and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served in accordance with the conditions specified in the Presidential Order.”
In 2005, Rusesabagina was awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom for saving the lives of at least 1,200 people during the genocide.
Around 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsi, were massacred by extremists from the Hutu community during the genocide, which lasted 100 days.
At the time, Rusesabagina was working as a hotel manager, protecting those who sought refuge in the building.
with cable news services