Kigali: Rwanda announced Friday that it had commuted the 25-year sentence against Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda), who was a bitter critic of President Paul Kagame and has been behind bars for over 900 days.
This has been a concern for the West and global rights groups.
“Paul Rusesabagina (codefendant), Callixte Nabisibimana had their sentences reduced by presidential order after consideration of their clemency requests,” Yolande Makolo, a government spokeswoman, told AFP without disclosing when.
She said that the sentences of 18 other people convicted in September 2021 of terrorist offences along with Rusesabagina were also commuted. This highlights the importance of Qatar and the United States in this case.
Makolo said, however, that no one should be in any doubt about what it means. There is agreement that serious crimes were committed, and they were convicted.
Rusesabagina was sentenced to prison at 68 after a trial his supporters called a fraud and plagued by irregularities. According to the Free Rusesabagina website, he has been held for 939 days.
His family has warned Rusesabagina about Rusesabagina’s declining health for years and expressed concern that he might die in prison.
In May 2022, a court upheld Rusesabagina’s sentence and most of his 20 codefendants. They were all jailed for between 3 and 20 years for supporting an armed group.
The Kigali hotel manager Rusesabagina saved 1,200 lives in the 1994 genocide, which saw 800,000 people slaughtered. These mainly were Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.
Rusesabagina’s story inspired “Hotel Rwanda“, an Oscar-nominated movie starring Don Cheadle. He became vocal in his criticism of Kagame and founded his party.
He was a staunch critic of the government, and his tirades against Kagame caused him to be considered an enemy of state policy.
– ‘Wrongfully detained’ –
Kagame indicated a possible softening of Rwanda’s position on Rusesabagina’s matter by video linking to the Global Security Forum in Doha, the Qatari capital, on March 13.
“There is discussion. There is an open dialogue. We are looking at all options for resolving this issue while keeping sight of the essential aspects. He said that he believed there was a way forward.
Rusesabagina’s family claimed that Rusesabagina was lured to travel from the US with the promise of work in Burundi and was tortured in custody.
Rusesabagina denied involvement but founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change(MRCD), an opposition group to which the FLN is considered the armed wing.
The Secretary of State Antony Blinken, rights groups and other organizations have raised the case. However, Kagame stated last year that the United States couldn’t “bully” him into releasing the prisoners.
Rusesabagina’s relatives filed a $400 Million lawsuit against Kagame, Rwanda and other officials last year. They were accusing him of abducting and torturing him.
2005: Rusesabagina was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the most prestigious civilian award in the United States.