Rwandan authorities will release human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotel manager whose life inspired the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda” about the 1994 genocide, a Rwandan government spokeswoman said Friday.

He was sentenced to 25 years on terrorism charges in 2021 after authorities tricked him into boarding a plane that secretly took him to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.

Paul Rusesabagina in 2018. Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

Spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said Rusesabagina would be released Saturday. She said his co-defendant, Callixte Nsabimana, and the other 18 convicted in the same case had had their sentences commuted after requests for clemency.

“Serious crimes were committed, for which they were convicted. Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction,” she said.

Rusesabagina’s case thrust a spotlight on growing opposition to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, once praised for ending Rwanda’s genocide and for his focus on developing the tiny East African nation, but increasingly criticized for his authoritarian rule, the abduction of Rusesabagina, and accusations of support for rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo – something the government has denied.

Hollywood actor Don Cheadle played Rusesabagina in the hit movie “Hotel Rwanda,” which was inspired by his experiences as a hotel manager protecting Tutsi guests from Hutu death squads. A Belgian citizen and a U.S. permanent resident, in 2005 Rusesabagina was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States.


Rusesabagina and Kagame were once cordial, but over the years Rusesabagina became a vocal critic of Kagame, saying he was stifling political opposition. The president hit back by accusing Rusesabagina of exaggerating his role during the genocide.

In 2020, Rwanda lured Rusesabagina onto an aircraft he thought was going to Burundi, but landed in Kigali instead. There, he was arrested and faced a battery of charges connected with founding and supporting an opposition group, the National Liberation Front, blamed for attacks that killed civilians.

During his trial, the judge pointed to a 2018 video in which Rusesabagina says that “the time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed,” as evidence of his guilt.

The conviction sparked a storm of global criticism, with more than three dozen U.S. senators urging Kagame to release Rusesabagina on humanitarian grounds and a high-profile campaign for his release involving celebrities, political leaders and rights organizations.

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