(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Fiercely outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide inspired the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, has been freed from prison after more than 900 days behind bars.
Rusesabagina was released late Friday away from the media glare and will return to the United States after the Kigali government commuted his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges.
Rusesabagina was convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group after a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham.
The 68-year-old, who is also a Belgian citizen with US permanent residency, has been in failing health and his family said he was tortured during his 939 days in detention.
Shortly before midnight 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, another US official said.
His sentence was commuted by presidential order, Justice Minister Emmanuel Ugirashebuja said in a statement, while 19 co-defendants also saw their sentences commuted.
But the minister warned:“Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction.”
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.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday that the United States was“grateful” to Rwanda for the release, while Belgium also said it welcomed the move.
Rwanda praised the role of both the United States and Qatar in resolving the case.
“This is the result of a shared desire to reset (the) US-Rwanda relationship,” President Paul Kagame's press secretary Stephanie Nyombayire tweeted Friday, adding the close relationship between Rwanda and Qatar was“key”.
Rusesabagina was accused of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
He denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.
He was arrested after a plane en route to Burundi was diverted to Rwanda in August 2020 in what the United Nations has described as an“abduction”. Rusesabagina had left Rwanda in 1996 and relocated to Belgium with his wife and children.
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