Man who inspired ‘Hotel Rwanda’ gets terrorism charges commuted, will return to U.S. – National

The Rwandan government, who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda for saving hundreds of its citizens from genocide, was convicted of terrorism crimes in a widely criticized trial years later. A 25-year sentence was commuted.

Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told the Associated Press on Friday that the executive order was issued after asking for a pardon on behalf of Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old US resident and Belgian citizen. Rusesabagina arrived at the Qatari ambassador’s home in the Rwandan capital Kigali late Friday and said she planned to leave the country in the next few days.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the news, saying, “Paul’s family is eager for his return to the United States and we share their joy with today’s good news.” and the government of Qatar, as well as U.S. government officials who worked “to achieve today’s happy outcome.”

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Nineteen others also had their sentences commuted. Under Rwandan law, commuting sentences does not “erase” the conviction, he added.

“Rwanda has taken note of the constructive role of the US government in creating the conditions for dialogue on this issue and the facilitation provided by the State of Qatar,” she said. President Paul Kagame said earlier this month that discussions were underway to resolve the issue.

Majid Al-Ansari, spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, “Proceedings for (Rusesabagina’s) extradition to the State of Qatar are underway, after which he will head to the United States. It was discussed at a conference that brought together senior officials from Qatar and Rwanda.”

A senior US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity under US government basic rules, declined to comment on Rusesabagina’s current health condition but said she had made medical and psychological care available.

The case was considered unfair by the United States and others. Rusesabagina disappeared during a visit to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2020 and emerged in Rwanda a few days later in handcuffs. His family claimed he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda against his will to stand trial.

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He was found guilty of eight counts, including membership of a terrorist group, murder and kidnapping. The deteriorating health situation has caused international concern.

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A senior U.S. official said the White House’s goal was to “get out of the predicament we’re in, mutually and collectively, from Washington to denounce the matter and Kigali to defend the legal system in response.” , to move into a “constructive order that follows each other’s path.”

As part of the effort, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called multiple calls with an unnamed aide to Kagame, the official said.

Rusesabagina claims his arrest was a response to criticizing Kagame for alleged human rights abuses. are doing.

In a signed letter to Kagame, posted on the Department of Justice website on October 14, Rusesabagina wrote: Through this letter I can assure you that I have no personal or political ambitions. I will leave the question about Rwandan politics for later. “

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Rusesabagina is credited with sheltering more than 1,000 Tutsi people in his hotel during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. He was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.

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He became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996 to live first in Belgium and then in the United States.

Human Rights Watch said he was “enforced disappeared” and taken to Rwanda. However, a court there ruled that he was not kidnapped when he was tricked into boarding a charter flight. claimed to have been to

Rusesabagina was accused of supporting militants in the opposition’s political platform, the Rwanda Democratic Reform Movement. The armed group claimed responsibility for attacks that killed nine Rwandans in 2018 and he in southern Rwanda in 2019.

Rusesabagina testified at trial that she had helped form armed groups to help refugees, but said she never supported violence and tried to distance herself from the deadly attacks.

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Rusesabagina also says she was gagged and tortured before being imprisoned, a claim Rwandan authorities deny. His lawyer, Felix Rudakemwa, claimed that Rusesabagina’s legal papers had been confiscated by prison authorities.

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After the ruling, Belgium’s then foreign minister, Sophie Wilmes, said: “We must conclude that Rusesabagina has not received a fair and impartial trial.”

Last year, US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken met with Kagame in Rwanda to discuss the matter. “I am still convinced that the trial was not fair,” Brinken told journalists.

“I am relieved to know that Paul will be rejoining the family,” Blinken said in a statement on Friday. rice field. peaceful and prosperous. We reaffirm our principle of seeking political change in Rwanda and globally through peaceful means. “

As the news spread on Friday, Rusesabagina’s family said in a statement: The family hopes to see him again soon. “

Anna reports from Nairobi, Kenya. Contributed by Lujain Jo in Doha, Qatar and Matt Lee and her Nomaan Merchant in Washington.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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