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'Hotel Rwanda' Hero Paul Rusesabagina Released from Prison


FILE - Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film 'Hotel Rwanda' and is credited with saving more than 1,000 people by sheltering them at the hotel he managed during the genocide, attends a court hearing in Kigali, Rwanda, Feb. 26, 2021.

Paul Rusesabagina has been released from a Rwandan prison, according to U.S. officials, after the Rwandan government commuted his prison sentence following diplomatic efforts by the United States.

Rusesabagina, once a hotel manager in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, is credited with saving hundreds of lives during the country's 1994 genocide. His actions inspired the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.

U.S. officials say Rusesabagina was released from prison shortly before midnight Friday and was taken to the residence of the Qatari ambassador in Kigali. They say he will likely stay there a couple of days before flying to Qatar, which helped to broker his release.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement welcoming the release.

"It is a relief to know that Paul is rejoining his family, and the U.S. government is grateful to the Rwandan government for making this reunion possible," Blinken said.

"We also thank the government of Qatar for their valuable assistance that will enable Paul's return to the United States," he added.

Earlier Friday, the Rwandan Ministry of Justice said in a statement that the sentences for several individuals, including Rusesabagina, "have been commuted by presidential order after consideration of their requests for clemency."

The 68-year-old Rwandan hotelier-turned-dissident had been jailed in Rwanda since August 2020, when a plane he believed was headed for Burundi instead landed in Kigali.

After he left the plane, he was tried and convicted on a number of terrorism-related charges the following year, over his ties to an organization opposed to President Paul Kagame's rule.

Rusesabagina, who denied the charges, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In his statement Friday, Blinken said there is "no place for political violence" in Rwanda and did not back Rwanda's accusations that Rusesabagina had engaged in such violence.

"The United States believes in a Rwanda that is peaceful and prosperous," he said.

Rusesabagina has U.S. permanent residency rights, and the U.S. government had described him as "wrongly detained," in part because of what it called the lack of fair trial guarantees.

Senior U.S. administration officials said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held a series of phone calls with a close adviser to Kagame to petition for Rusesabagina's release.

The United States has traditionally had close ties with Rwanda, but they have been strained by the case against Rusesabagina.

Stephanie Nyombayire, a spokesperson for Kagame, tweeted Friday the release was "the result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relationship."

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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