'Hotel Rwanda' figure Paul Rusesabagina to leave prison

Friday March 24 2023
Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina

Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda" and who is serving a 25-year sentence in Rwanda on terrorism charges. A Rwanda government source now says he will be released on Saturday, March 25, 2023. PHOTO | SIMON WOHLFAHRT | AFP



Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda" and is serving a 25-year sentence in Rwanda on terrorism charges, will be released on Saturday, a Rwanda government source said on Friday.

His 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 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.

Read: 13 terror suspects arrested in Rwanda

Rusesabagina will initially be flown to Doha, and then on to the United States, the source said.


‘Wrongly detained’

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.

Read: 'Hotel Rwanda' hero gets 25 years in jail

Rusesabagina, a vocal critic of Kagame, acknowledged having a leadership role in the 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 seeking clemency, 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.

Read: 'Hotel Rwanda' hero's daughter hits out at State

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 released alongside Rusesabagina and several others, the source said.

Earlier this month, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said there were discussions about "resolving" the fate of Rusesabagina.