Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda” and had been sentenced to prison in Rwanda, has had his sentence commuted by the country’s President Paul Kagame after his request for clemency, officials in Rwanda said Friday.
Rusesabagina was found guilty on terrorism-related charges in September 2021 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“Commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction,” said government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo on Friday.
“Rwanda notes the constructive role of the US government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by the State of Qatar,” she added.
Rusesabagina, who is a dual Rwandan and Belgian citizen and resident of the United States, will be released on Saturday along with 19 other people that had been convicted alongside him, Makolo told CNN.
Rusesabagina will be transferred to Qatar following his release, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majid Al-Ansari said in a statement Friday.
“He will then head to the United States of America,” Al-Ansari added.
Rusesabagina was arrested by Rwandan authorities while he was traveling internationally in 2020 in what his family has claimed was a kidnapping.
“We are pleased to hear the news about Paul’s release. The family is hopeful to reunite with him soon,” a spokesperson for Rusesabagina’s family told CNN.
However Rusesabagina and the 19 others could be sent back to prison if they violate certain conditions, Rwanda’s minister of justice and attorney-general said in a statement Friday.
“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,” read the statement.
At his trial in 2021, Rusesabagina was found guilty of being part of a terror group called MRCD-FLN. Two 2018 attacks in which nine people died were a particular focus, according to a government statement.
However the Clooney Foundation for Justice described the verdict as a “show trial,” and claimed that Rusesabagina’s conviction lacked sufficient guarantees of fairness “required by international and African standards.”
Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of President Kagame, is best known for saving hundreds of Rwandans during the country’s genocide by sheltering them in the hotel he managed.
His story was made into the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda,” starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.