Hotel Rwanda hero and government critic arrives in US
Paul Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government, has arrived in the US after being freed from prison in Kigali, the White House says.
He rose to prominence after being portrayed as a hero of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.
In 2021, he was sentenced to 25 years on terrorism charges by a court, in what supporters called a sham trial.
His release earlier this week followed US government diplomatic pressure and talks brokered by Qatar.
“Our family is finally reunited today,” his daughter Carine Kanimba tweeted about her father’s arrival in San Antonio, Texas, along with a photo of him looking tired, but smiling.
“Thank you to EVERYONE who worked soooo hard to bring him home,” she said.
White House National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Rusesabagina’s family and friends “had long waited for this day to come”.
“I’m grateful to those we worked closely with in the Rwandan Government to make this possible,” he wrote on Twitter.
The former hotel manager was allowed to return to the US – where he is a permanent resident – after his sentence was “commuted by presidential order”, the Rwandan government said upon his release.
In recent years, he had become a fierce critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and in a 2018 video message, Mr Rusesabagina called for a change of government.
He was arrested in 2020 when, according to his supporters, a private jet he believed would take him to Burundi instead landed in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
In September 2021 he was found guilty of backing a rebel group behind deadly attacks in 2018 and 2019 in Rwanda.
The Rwandan genocide lasted 100 days from April 1994, when 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were massacred by extremists from the Hutu community.
Mr Rusesabagina left Rwanda in 1996 and his story remained largely unknown for a decade, while he worked as a taxi driver in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
He was featured in a 1998 book about the genocide, but it was the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster, where he was played by Don Cheadle, that brought him global fame.
The then hotel manager protected some 1,200 people from the violence after they sought shelter.