Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide were portrayed in hit Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda”, has been freed from prison after more than 900 days behind bars.
Rusesabagina was released late Friday and will return to the United States after the Kigali government commuted his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges.
His detention sparked criticism in the West and among rights groups, and highlighted Rwanda’s record of crushing political dissent and free speech under President Paul Kagame.
Rusesabagina was jailed after he was found to have backed an armed rebel group in a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham.
The 68-year-old has been in failing health and his family said he was tortured during his 939 days in detention.
His sentence was “commuted by presidential order”, as were the prison terms of 19 co-defendants convicted alongside him, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told AFP.
Shortly before midnight on Friday, Rusesabagina arrived at the Qatari ambassador’s residence in Kigali, a US official said.
He will likely stay there for “a couple of days” before flying to Qatar, which helped broker his release, and then to the United States where he has permanent residency, another US official said.
Rwanda praised the role of both the United States and Qatar in resolving the case, after Kagame held talks in Doha earlier this month.
“This is the result of a shared desire to reset (the) US-Rwanda relationship,” Kagame’s press secretary Stephanie Nyombayire tweeted Friday, adding the close relationship between Rwanda and Qatar was “key”.
US President Joe Biden welcomed Rusesabagina’s release, calling it a “happy outcome”.
“Paul’s family is eager to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their joy at today’s good news,” he said in a statement.