Kagame sees way forward for jailed ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Monday March 13 2023
Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Rwandan President Paul Kagame giving a speech at a past US-Africa Leaders Summit. PHOTO | KEVIN DIETSCH | GETTY IMAGES | AFP


Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Monday said there were discussions about “resolving” the fate of 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.

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

Paul Rusesabagina.

"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina in Nyarugenge Prison inmate uniform in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO | SIMON WOHLFAHRT | AFP

Washington has designated him as “wrongly detained”, partly because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees. Mr Rusesabagina has US permanent residency rights.

Mr Kagame has said his country would not be bullied over Mr Rusesabagina, but on Monday appeared to suggest that there was room for compromise.

Read: Rwanda rejects calls to release Rusesabagina


“We don’t get stuck with our past. We move into the future,” the President said during a video interview at the Global Security Forum.

“So, there is discussion on looking at all possible ways of resolving that issue without compromising the most fundamental aspects of that case.”

In August 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had raised his concerns with Mr Kagame over the trial. Rwanda has said the trial was lawful.

Mr Rusesabagina was feted around the world after being played by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda”. The movie portrayed him as a hero who risked his life to shelter hundreds of people as manager of a luxury hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

A vocal critic of President Kagame, he acknowledged having a leadership role in the opposition group but denied responsibility for attacks carried out by its armed wing. The trial judges said the two were indistinguishable.