President Biden thanked Rwanda’s government on Friday for releasing Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” and allowing him to return to his family in the U.S.
Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old U.S. resident and Belgian citizen, had his 25-year sentence for terrorism offenses commuted by presidential order after a request for clemency. A Rwanda government spokesperson said the commutation does not “extinguish” his conviction.
Biden released a statement Friday welcoming Rusesabagina home to the U.S.
“I welcome today’s release of Paul Rusesabagina by the Government of Rwanda,” Biden wrote. “Paul’s family is eager to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their joy at today’s good news.”
“I thank the Rwandan Government for making this reunion possible, and I also thank the Government of Qatar for facilitating Paul’s release and return to the United States,” he continued. “I add my gratitude to those across the U.S. Government who have worked with the Government of Rwanda to achieve today’s happy outcome.”
Rusesabagina inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” for saving hundreds of people from genocide. But years later, he was convicted of eight charges — including membership in a terrorist group, murder and abduction — in a trial that has been widely criticized by the U.S. and others. The circumstances of his arrest, his limited access to an independent legal team and his deteriorating health sparked international backlash.
He went missing in 2020 during a visit to Dubai and appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs. His family says he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda against his will to stand trial. Rusesabagina has also said he was gagged and tortured before he was jailed, but Rwandan authorities have denied this allegation.
Rusesabagina has said he was arrested due to his criticism of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. Rwanda’s government has denied accusations it targets dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.
In an Oct. 14 letter posted on the justice ministry’s website, 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. 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 given the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom after he sheltered more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide when more than 800,000 Tutsi and Hutus who attempted to protect them were killed.
He became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, initially living in Belgium before moving to the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.