KIGALI – Rwandan President Paul Kagame has pardoned jailed Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotelier portrayed as a hero in a film called “Hotel Rwanda” and Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara, a cabinet communique issued by the Office of the Prime Minister announced late Friday.
The two alongside 18 other co-accused members of a rebel group — the National Liberation Front (FLN), a military wing of Movement for Democratic Change and the Party for Democracy (MRCD), are to be released on a presidential pardon.
The decision of early release was approved at a cabinet meeting on Friday chaired by Kagame.
“In accordance with article 228 of the law on criminal procedure, the prison sentences of the following individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences have been commuted by Presidential Order after consideration of their requests for clemency: Paul Rusesabagina and Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara,” the statement said.
Another 18 members of MRCD-FLN convicted alongside their leaders Paul Rusesabagina and Callixte Nsabimana were granted collective commutation under article 229, it added. The presidential pardon also saw 361 convicted in unrelated cases and various offenses have their sentences commuted, according to the statement.
Rusesabagina who was serving a 25-year jail sentence was in September 2021 convicted on eight counts related to acts of terrorism committed by the FLN in 2018 which claimed the lives of nine civilians in Rwanda’s southwest.
In a letter written by Rusesabagina to Kagame in October 2022 to request a pardon that was released by the Rwandan Ministry of Justice on Friday, Rusesabagina said he wished to express regret for any connection with the MRCD.
“As a former head of MRCD, I regret not taking more care to ensure that the MRCD coalition fully adhered to the principles of non-violence in which I fully and deeply believe, and have always ascribed,” Rusesabagina wrote.
“If I am granted a pardon and released, I understand fully that I will spend the remainder of my days in the United States in quiet reflection,” he continued. “I can assure you through this letter that I hold no personal or political ambitions otherwise. I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me.”
Rusesabagina was made famous by “Hotel Rwanda,” where he saved over 1,000 ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed more than 1 million lives.
However, survivors and experts disputed the story as exaggerated. Until his arrest, Rusesabagina had long been living overseas and was the subject of an international arrest warrant for alleged terrorism, arson, kidnap, and murder, perpetrated against civilians on Rwandan territory.