The opponent Rusesabagina, hero of the film “Hotel Rwanda”, is released

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L’opponent Rusesabagina , hero of the film “Hotel Rwanda”, is released

Simon Wohlfahrt Agence France-Presse archives Paul Rusesabagina (wearing a pink prison uniform) arriving at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice, in Kigali, Rwanda, on October 2, 2020

Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” and is a fierce opponent of President Paul Kagame, was released on Friday after the government announced it had commuted his 25-year sentence for “terrorism”.

Paul Rusesabagina, who has Belgian citizenship and permanently resides in the United States, was handed over to the Qatari ambassador ahead of his return to the United States, a US official said.

President Joe Biden thanked the Rwandan and Qatari governments “for making this reunion possible,” expressing his “joy.”

Belgium also welcomed “the decision of the Rwandan government to grant Paul Rusesabagina a remission”. “We hope that he will soon be reunited with his family,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a statement.

Mr. rights defenders.

“Paul Rusesabagina and [his co-accused] Callixte Nsabimana had their prison sentences commuted by presidential order, after consideration of their requests for clemency,” said the spokesperson for the Rwandan government Yolande Makolo.

Eighteen other people convicted of terrorism also had their sentences commuted, she added. According to a government source who requested anonymity, the other detainees are expected to be released on Saturday.

Ms. Makolo clarified that Rwanda “notes the constructive role of the US government in creating the conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by Qatar”. But she added that “no one should be under any illusions about what this means, because there is a consensus that serious crimes have been committed, for which they have been convicted”.

< h2 class="h2-intertitre">939 days of detention

This case has long been a source of contention between Kigali and Washington. In May 2022, Washington considered that Mr. Rusesabagina was “unjustly detained” by Rwandan justice. Mr. Kagame had retorted that the United States could not “bully” him into releasing him.

The move “is the result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relations,” the president's press secretary, Stéphanie Nyombayire, said on Twitter.

The talks on a release of the opposition had started at the end of 2022 and a breakthrough occurred last week during discussions between President Kagame and the Emir of Qatar, said a source familiar with the matter.

President Kagame announced during a visit to Qatar two weeks ago that “discussions” were underway regarding Mr. Rusesabagina's imprisonment.

Supporters of the 68-year-old opponent believe that his trial was a sham marked by irregularities. His family had also warned about his declining state of health.

Mr. Rusesabagina was detained for 939 days, according to the Free Rusesabagina website.

“International Standards”

He was made famous by the film “Hotel Rwanda”, released in 2004, which tells how this moderate Hutu who ran the Hotel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital saved more than 1000 people during the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994. /p>

An opponent for more than 20 years of Paul Kagame, whom he has accused of authoritarianism and fueling anti-Hutu sentiment, Mr. Rusesabagina has used his Hollywood fame to give a global echo to his positions .

His tirades against Mr. Kagame earned him treatment as an enemy of the state.

In a letter dated October 2022 published by the government on Friday, he assured that he would henceforth stay away from political life.

“I will spend the rest of my days in the United States at think quietly. I can assure you by this letter that I have no other personal or political ambitions. I will leave behind me questions regarding Rwandan politics,” he wrote.

Human rights defenders accuse Rwanda – ruled with an iron fist by Mr Kagame since the end of the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed – of suppressing freedom of expression and opposition. /p>

Mr. Rusesabagina had lived since 1996 in exile in the United States and Belgium, before being arrested in Kigali in 2020 in murky circumstances, when he got off a plane he thought was bound for Burundi.

“His release would conclude a case that underscored Rwanda's flagrant disregard for international standards,” Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said earlier in the day.

The opponent was tried from February to July 2021 on nine counts, including that of “terrorism”, for attacks carried out by the FLN, an organization classified as terrorist by Kigali, which killed nine people in 2018 and 2019.

Paul Rusesabagina admitted to having participated in the founding in 2017 of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), of which the FLN is considered to be the armed wing, but he has always denied any involvement in the attacks.