President of Rwanda Paul Kagame has, through presidential order, decided to commute the sentence of Paul Rusesabagina, who will likely be released today, March 25th. Paul Rusesabagina, the primary subject of the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, has been in prison in Rwanda under terrorism charges, for which he was arrested in 2020 and charged in 2021. The terrorism charges resulted from a series of attacks in Rwanda by a group named the National Liberation Front that left 9 dead, a group which Rusesabagina held connections to. In august, I wrote an article detailing his arrest, some of his story, the accuracy of the movie, the Rwandan side, and the western side, which can be viewed here: https://theatlasnews.co/politics/2022/08/13/hotel-rwanda-under-arrest/
Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years, and though he now no longer has to serve that sentence, legally the conviction still stands, and thus do the further penalties established at the time of his sentencing. Namely, Rusesabagina, as well as the others he was convicted with, were ordered to pay a collective 412 Million Rwandan Francs (Approximately 375,000 USD) in compensation to the victims of the FLN attacks. The Rwandan government has specifically noted that the compensation the convicted owe is still in effect.
President Kagame in part reached the decision after receiving a letter from Rusesabagina asking for the pardon in October, though negotiations between Rwanda and the US for his release have been ongoing for quite some time. Relations between the US and Rwanda have been particularly strained over the issue, and spokesperson for President Kagame, Stephanie Nyombayire, tweeted “This is the result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relationship”. In the letter, which can be viewed in full below, Rusesabagina states he will “leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind”. It is also termed in his release that he must cease all political activities in Rwanda.
After his release, he will be prepared to head to Qatar, where the Qatari government has stated they will host him as they arrange for his travel to the US, where his family resides. Qatar’s government is also said to have been apart of the negotiations for his release.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been adamant in pressuring Rwanda to free Rusesabagina, has released a statement on the matter.
“I welcome today’s release of Paul Rusesabagina by the Government of Rwanda. It is a relief to know that Paul is rejoining his family, and the U.S. Government is grateful to the Rwandan Government for making this reunion possible. We also thank the Government of Qatar for their valuable assistance that will enable Paul’s return to the United States.
The United States believes in a Rwanda that is peaceful and prosperous. We reaffirm the principle of seeking political change in Rwanda and globally through peaceful means. There is simply no place for political violence. I thank those across the U.S. Government who have worked with the Rwandan Government to enable this outcome.”
Rusesabagina’s release is among 358 being granted freedom by Kagame, notably including Callixte Nsabimana, aka Sankara, who was a spokesman for the FLN group and was charged alongside Rusesabagina.
US President Joe Biden also commented on the release.
“I thank the Rwandan Government for making this reunion possible, and I also thank the Government of Qatar for facilitating Paul’s release and return to the United States. I add my gratitude to those across the U.S. Government who have worked with the Government of Rwanda to achieve today’s happy outcome”.
Notably, the commutation of the sentence can be revoked should the convicted be found to repeat offence. “Under Rwandan law, commutation of a sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction. If any individual benefitting from early release repeats offenses of a similar nature, the commutation can be revoked and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served, in accordance with the conditions specified in the Presidential Order”, says part of the Rwandan Ministry of Justice Release.