Rwandan human rights hero Paul Rusesabagina is set to be released from prison.
The Rwandan Ministry of Justice announced Friday that Rusesabagina’s prison sentence had been commuted by an order from Rwandan President Paul Kagame. A hero of the Rwandan Genocide who sheltered more than 1,200 refugees fleeing militia groups, Rusesabagina’s story was told in the award-winning 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda.” He had been kidnapped and imprisoned since 2020.
Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, said in a statement to the Associated Press Friday that the order came in response to a request for clemency. Rusesabagina is expected to be released on Saturday, Makolo added.
The Ministry of Justice issued a statement announcing the order, but also said that the orders came with a catch. “Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction,” the statement read. “If any individual benefitting from early release repeats offences of a similar nature, the commutation can be revoked and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served, in accordance with the conditions specified in the Presidential Order. Other penalties imposed by the Court, such as compensation owed to victims, are not affected by this commutation and thus remain in force.”
According to NPR, Rusesabagina was kidnapped in 2020 when he boarded a plane in Dubai that he believed was headed to Burundi. Instead, he landed in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali. He was promptly arrested and tried on terrorism charges over his involvement with Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), AP reported. The MRCD’s militant wing, the Forces for National Liberation (FLN), had carried out attacks in 2018 and 2019, which killed nine Rwandans. Rusesabagina said at trial that he did help form the militia group, but did not support violence.
The Ministry of Justice statement also included a letter from Rusesabagina to Kagame requesting clemency. “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. “I can assure you through this letter that I hold no personal or political ambitions otherwise. I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me.”
In December, Kagame rejected pressure from U.S. diplomatic officials to release Rusesabagina. “We’ve made it clear there isn’t anyone going to come from anywhere to bully us into something to do with our lives,” he said. “Maybe make an invasion and overrun the country — you can do that.”
But Makolo credited the U.S. for handling negotiations. “Rwanda notes the constructive role of the U.S. government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by the state of Qatar,” Makolo said.
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Rwandan Press Secretary Stephanie Nyombayire added that Rusesabagina’s release “is the result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relationship.”
Rusesabagina will be flown to Doha, Qatar, before returning to the U.S. and reuniting with his family.
Rusesabagina achieved worldwide fame for his actions in the Rwandan Genocide. He opened the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali to more than 1,200 Hutu and Tutsi refugees fleeing the Hutu paramilitary group Interahamwe in 1994. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his heroics in 2005, and his story was dramatized in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” starring Don Cheadle.