Paul Rusesabagina, whose work to shelter over 1,000 people from a genocide in the 1990s was chronicled in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” has had his prison sentence commuted by the Rwandan government, The Associated Press (AP) reported Friday.
Rusesabagina, a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was serving a 25-year prison term after he was convicted on terrorism-related offenses in a trial that drew heavy international condemnation, according to AP.
Yolande Makolo, a spokesperson for the Rwandan government, told the outlet the commutation came by presidential order but cautioned that the move does not “extinguish” the original conviction. Rusesabagina’s release is set for Saturday.
Makolo said the African nation “notes the constructive role of the U.S. government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by the state of Qatar,” the outlet reported.
Rwanda said on Friday it has commuted the 25-year jail sentence against ailing “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, a fiercely outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame who has been held behind bars for more than 900 days ➡️ https://t.co/yN8SEhV39h pic.twitter.com/kzk1PczNfl
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) March 24, 2023
Rusesabagina, who lived in the United States and Belgium after he originally left Rwanda following a 1996 assassination attempt, reappeared in 2020 under arrest in the African nation, with his family alleging that the Rwandan government kidnapped him from Dubai.
A long-time critic of the Rwandan government and President Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina faced accusations of supporting an armed branch of the opposition Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, AP reported.
During his trial, at which he had limited legal assistance, Rusesabagina testified that he assisted an armed group that helped refugees but distanced himself from any support for violence, according to AP.
Rusesabagina maintained that he faced torture in custody as his health worsened, an accusation that Rwandan authorities denied. His lawyer said prison authorities also took legal documents from Rusesabagina, the outlet reported. (RELATED: African Rebels Force Mass Evacuations, Threaten Key City)
Majid Al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the Qatari foreign ministry, said that that Rusesabagina will travel to the U.S. via Qatar after he is released, per AP.