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Rusesabagina, who was serving a 25-year sentence in Rwanda on ‘terrorism’ charges, is expected to be released on Saturday.
Paul Rusesabagina, who was portrayed as a hero in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda and was serving a 25-year sentence in Rwanda on “terrorism” charges, has had his sentence commuted by presidential order.
Governnment spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told Al Jazeera on Friday that the decision came after a request from Rusesabagina for clemency.
“No one should be under any illusion about what this means, as there is consensus that serious crimes were committed, for which they were convicted,” Makolo said, adding that under Rwandan law commutation “does not extinguish the underlying conviction”.
The spokeswoman also mentioned the role of the US government and Qatar in resolving the case.
Rusesabagina is expected to be released on Saturday, she added.
He will be initially flown to Qatar’s capital, Doha, and then on to the United States, a government source told Reuters news agency.
Rusesabagina was sentenced in 2021 to a 25-year prison term for being part of a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks – charges that he denied. He refused to participate in the trial which he called a “sham”.
He had suddenly reappeared in Rwanda the previous year after years of living in exile. Rusesabagina had boarded a plane in Dubai thinking of traveling to Burundi, but the flight brought him to Kigali instead.
Rwanda’s Justice Minister Johnston Busingye later admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera that Rwanda did pay for the plane that transported Rusesabagina.
Human rights organisations, members of the US Congress and the European Parliament have described Rusesabagina’s rendition to Rwanda as illegal under international law.
Rusesabagina has US permanent residency rights. The US designated him as “wrongly detained”, partly because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees in Rwanda.
Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the release of Hotel Rwanda, which depicted him risking his life to shelter hundreds of people as the manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali during the the 1994 genocide when ethnic Hutus killed more than 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.
US actor Don Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Rusesabagina in 2004 film.
Rusesabagina later used his fame to highlight what he described as human rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.
This is a developing story. More to follow.
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