According to senior Rwandan and Qatari officials, imprisoned political activist Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, is expected to be released from prison as early as Saturday morning. The Minister of Justice, Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, plans to announce the commutation of the prison terms for Rusesabagina and twenty others sentenced with him on terrorism-related charges at the end of a key cabinet meeting on Friday. However, their underlying convictions will remain intact, according to two senior Rwanda government officials.
One official stated that if any of these individuals return to the criminal activities for which they were originally charged, the sentence will be automatically reimposed. Rusesabagina, a prominent critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, achieved global fame after Hollywood depicted his efforts to save more than 1,000 Hutus and Tutsis during his country’s 1994 genocide. However, in 2021, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges for his leadership role in the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, a dissident coalition whose militant wing was accused of violent attacks resulting in civilian deaths by Rwandan authorities.
Rusesabagina denied responsibility for the killings, and in 2022, the U.S. State Department stated that he was “wrongly detained.” According to officials familiar with the negotiations, the framing of the issue evolved in talks as the U.S. sought to acknowledge Rwandan concerns about the underlying security and terrorism issues involved in the case. Rwandan officials plan to release a formal letter from Rusesabagina that requests a pardon from Kagame. In the letter, he expresses regret for any connection between his political work at the Movement for Democratic Change and acts of violence by its armed wing, as well as for not taking more care to ensure that members of his opposition coalition fully adhered to the principles of non-violence in which he deeply believes.
Rusesabagina also writes that he will withdraw from Rwandan politics if released and spend the remainder of his life in quiet reflection in the United States. According to sources, the letter was drafted by Rusesabagina with the help of his legal advisers in the United States and Rwanda.