By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda and was serving a 25-year sentence in Rwanda on “terrorism” charges, has had his sentence commuted by presidential order.
The decision was made after a request from Rusesabagina for clemency, governnment spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said on Friday.
Rusesabagina, who is also a fiercely outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, is expected to be released on Saturday.
But “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,” Makolo said. Under Rwandan law, commutation “does not extinguish the underlying conviction”, she said.
He will be transferred to Qatar’s capital Doha, and then on to the United States, a Qatari official said.
Rusesabagina was sentenced in 2021 to a 25-year prison term for being part of a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks – charges that he denied. He refused to participate in his trial, which he and his supporters called a “sham”.
He had suddenly reappeared in Rwanda in August 2020 after years of living in exile. Rusesabagina had boarded a plane in Dubai, believing it was taking him to Burundi, but the flight brought him to Kigali instead.
Human rights organisations, members of the US Congress and the European Parliament have described Rusesabagina’s rendition to Rwanda as illegal under international law.
Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye later admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera that Rwanda did pay for the plane that transported Rusesabagina.
“Rusesabagina’s release would conclude a case that has highlighted Rwanda’s blatant disregard for international norms when it seeks to target people deemed an enemy of the state – even those far beyond their border,” Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said.