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Paul Rusesabagina, 'Hotel Rwanda' hero, released from prison

Paul Rusesabagina looks on as he sits with some of his co-accused at the Supreme Court in Kigali, Rwanda, on Feb. 17, 2021, where he denied charges of being associated with an armed group. On Friday, the Rwandan government said it commuted his sentence.
Simon Wohlfahrt
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AFP via Getty Images
Paul Rusesabagina looks on as he sits with some of his co-accused at the Supreme Court in Kigali, Rwanda, on Feb. 17, 2021, where he denied charges of being associated with an armed group. On Friday, the Rwandan government said it commuted his sentence.

Updated March 24, 2023 at 6:11 PM ET

The man who was celebrated as a hero in the movie Hotel Rwanda for saving lives during the Rwandan genocide has been released from prison.

Senior Biden administration officials confirmed to reporters that Paul Rusesabagina had been released from prison in the capital of Kigali late Friday evening. He was accompanied by U.S. Embassy officials and moved to the residence of Qatar's ambassador.

He was released after the Rwandan government commuted his sentence of 25 years on terrorism charges. He was sentenced in 2021.

In the coming days, the 68-year-old U.S. resident and Belgian citizen will return to the United States, which has been pushing for his release. He is expected to return home to his family in Texas.

"The family of Paul Rusesabagina is pleased to hear the news about his release," a spokesperson said in a statement. "They hope to reunite with him soon."

Rusesabagina was a hotel manager during the 1994 genocide. He rose to fame when Hollywood released the film, where he was played by Don Cheadle about his actions to protect Tutsis, who sought refuge at the hotel from Hutu death squads. He was credited with protecting and saving the lives of more than 1,000 people.

Rusesabagina was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President George W. Bush in 2005.

Actor Don Cheadle (left) and real-life inspiration for the film <em>Hotel Rwanda</em>, Paul Rusesabagina, attend the movie's premiere on Dec. 2, 2004, in Los Angeles.
Carlo Allegri / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Actor Don Cheadle (left) and real-life inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, attend the movie's premiere on Dec. 2, 2004, in Los Angeles.

He's been an outspoken critic of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and was sentenced in 2021.

His family says he was kidnapped in 2020 after he boarded a plane in Dubai that he believed was taking him to Burundi. But the flight landed in the Rwanda instead.

Upon his arrival, he was arrested and put on trial over his ties to the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), a group that opposes Kagame's rule. Rusesabagina acknowledges having a leadership role within the group but denies links to the armed wing, the Forces for National Liberation.

The case has been an irritant in Rwanda's relations with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the case with Kagame on a trip last year.

"This is the result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relationship," Stephanie Nyombayire, Kagame's spokesperson, wrote on Twitter.

The government of Qatar was also involved in the negotiations to release Rusesabagina. The sentences of 18 other prisoners who were convicted alongside him have also been commuted.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.