Freed ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero heads to US for family reunion

Paul Rusesabagina, the man who was hailed a hero in a Hollywood movie about the country's 1994 genocide, is detained and paraded in front of the media in handcuffs at the Rwanda Investigation Bureau in Kigali, August 31, 2020 [Clement Uwiringiyimana/Reuters]

Rusesabagina was released last Friday after President Kagame commuted his sentence, following months of negotiations between Washington and Kigali.

The man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, has boarded a plane in Qatar bound for Houston after being released from prison in Rwanda last week, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

In September 2021, Rusesabagina, a permanent resident of the United States who has lived in exile in San Antonio, Texas, for more than a decade, was sentenced to 25 years over his ties to a group opposed to Rwandan President Paul Kagame that has an armed wing.

The 68-year-old, a vocal critic of Kagame, says he was lured to Rwanda in 2019 when he boarded a private plane in Dubai he believed was bound for Bujumbura, Burundi. The aircraft instead landed in Kigali, where he was arrested.

He was released last Friday after Kagame commuted his sentence, following months of negotiations between Washington and Kigali. He arrived in Doha on Monday.

Rusesabagina was feted around the world after being played by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, which portrayed him as a hero who risked his life to shelter hundreds of people as manager of a luxury hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Washington’s historically close ties with Rwanda had been strained by Rusesabagina’s detention and by US allegations, denied by Kigali, that Rwanda has sent troops into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo and supports rebels there.

The European Union and experts from the United Nations have also made similar allegations.

Rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also accused the Kagame administration of a clampdown on dissent.

Rwanda says Rusesabagina’s release is the result of a shared desire to reset the US-Rwanda relationship.

Rusesabagina boarded a plane on Wednesday morning and is scheduled to land in Houston in the afternoon, where he is expected to see his family, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

During his trial, he acknowledged having a leadership role in an opposition group but denied responsibility for attacks carried out in Rwanda by its armed wing.

The trial judges said the two wings of the group were indistinguishable.



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