Rwanda Announces Release From Prison of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero
NAIROBI, Kenya — Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism in the face of genocide was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda,” will be released from prison on Saturday after being captured, held and tried by the Rwandan government in a case that drew international condemnation, the Rwandan government announced on Friday.
His release will end two and a half years in captivity for Mr. Rusesabagina, who had moved to the United States and become a staunch detractor of Rwanda’s longtime leader, Paul Kagame.
In August 2020, Mr. Rusesabagina, 68, was duped into traveling overseas on what he thought was a speaking trip, kidnapped by the Rwandan government, tortured and put on trial.
He was convicted on eight charges, including murder, kidnapping and belonging to a terrorist group, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges and denied the accusations the Rwandan government leveled against him.
Mr. Rusesabagina will be released alongside 19 others with whom he was convicted on terrorism-related offenses, said Yolande Makolo, spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, in a written text message. She said that even though their prison sentences had been commuted, under Rwandan law, that does not “extinguish the underlying conviction.”
Ms. Makolo said in the text message, “No one should be under any illusion about what this means, as there is consensus that serious crimes were committed, for which they were convicted.”
The release follows several months of negotiations involving the White House, the Rwandan government, the government of Qatar and Mr. Rusesabagina’s family.
He is expected to fly to the Qatari capital, Doha, on Saturday and then on to the United States, according to an official informed of the negotiations, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said that the talks started at the end of 2022 and that a breakthrough came last week at a meeting between Mr. Kagame and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, during a security summit in Doha.
Mr. Rusesabagina’s release will come just weeks before Rwanda marks the 29th anniversary of the 1994 genocide. He was lauded for his role in sheltering and saving 1,268 people.
That story became the genesis for the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda” and brought him global recognition and multiple awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 from President George W. Bush.
The news of his release was first reported by the news website Semafor and by Reuters.
Mr. Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and a permanent U.S. resident, was living in San Antonio in 2020 when he was lured by Rwandan operatives into flying to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. After that, he boarded a private jet thinking that he was flying to Burundi for a speaking engagement, only to land in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
In the hours after, Mr. Rusesabagina said that he had been blindfolded and tortured and held in solitary confinement. It wasn’t until days later that the authorities paraded him in front of the news media and charged him with being the founder and leader of a terrorist group that sponsored and financed terrorist activities against Rwandans.
Mr. Rusesabagina’s family, which had mounted an aggressive advocacy campaign for his release, said in a statement that they were pleased to hear news of his release and were “hopeful to reunite with him soon.”