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The Rwandan government released former hotelier and opposition leader Paul Rusesabagina, famous for saving hundreds of people during the 1994 genocide and the inspiration for the film, “Hotel Rwanda,” who had been jailed for years for “terrorism,” CBS News reported.
Officials announced that Rusesabagina’s sentence was commuted by a presidential order after a request for clemency. He will travel to Qatar and then to the United States in the next few days.
The decision comes nearly three years after Rusesabagina disappeared in 2020 during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, only to appear days later in Rwanda in handcuffs after being tricked by the government.
He was later convicted by a local court on eight charges including murder and membership of a terrorist group, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Rusesabagina and his family said his detention came as a result of his criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. The government has denied the allegations.
Following his 2020 arrest, authorities said that the opposition figure had been going to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But the circumstances surrounding his arrest, his limited access to independent legal defense and his worsening health prompted international condemnation, especially by the US. Analysts believe Kagame relented because he wanted to improve ties with the country.
His release was welcomed by his family and a number of Western leaders. Even so, the Rwandan government explained that commutation does not “extinguish” the conviction.
Rusesabagina is credited with sheltering more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis, and Hutus who tried to protect them, were killed.
His story was famously portrayed in the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” where Rusesabagina was played by Don Cheadle.