Rusesabagina sheltered more than 1,200 people during the Rwandan genocide, granting him the title of a “hero” by the international community.
Rwanda’s opposition figure Paul Rusesabagina, widely known as the ‘Hotel Rwanda hero,’ arrived in Qatar on Monday just three days after being released from jail, sources confirmed to Doha News.
“I can confirm that Paul Rusesabagina has left Rwanda and is currently in Doha,” United States National Security Council co-ordinator John Kirby is quoted as saying by reports.
The 68-year-old is set to have medical exams before departing for the US on Wednesday, the diplomats said.
“He will soon be making his way back to the United States. And his family is, as I’m sure no one is surprised, they’re eager to welcome him back here, home,” Kirby added.
“He needs care but will fly on to the US on Wednesday,” said one Qatar-based diplomat privy to the case.
While Qatari authorities have yet to publicly announce his arrival, a source with knowledge of the matter confirmed the latest development to Doha News.
Following 938 days in jail, Rusesabagina, whose 25-year prison sentence was commuted by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, was freed late Friday as part of a deal between the US administration and Rwanda, brokered by Qatar.
Before taking a flight to Doha, Rusesabagina, who was reportedly in poor health, slept at the residence of the Qatari ambassador in Kigali.
Yolande Makolo, spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, told the New York Times that the release comes following months of talks between Qatar, the Rwandan government, the White House and Rusesabagina’s family.
Kagame was in Doha earlier this month, where he met with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, though statements released at the time made no mention of Rusesabagina release.
An official privy to the matter told the NYT that talks had started at the end of 2022 and the breakthrough only came after the meeting between Sheikh Tamim and Kagame.
The Gulf state has long served as a heavyweight mediator and has helped secure the release of numerous prisoners over the past years.
‘A flawed trial’
Rusesabagina was a vocal critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and came to be known as a hero during the 1994 genocide.
In 2021, Rusesabagina alongside 20 others, was convicted on eight charges including being a member of a terrorist group and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Makolo said last week that Rusesabagina and 19 others will be released.
The Rwandan official noted that despite the sentence being commuted, it does not “extinguish the underlying conviction.”
“No one should be under any illusion about what this means, as there is consensus that serious crimes were committed, for which they were convicted,” she told NYT in a text message.
Rusesabagina was the centre of 2004 Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda.” His case was met with uproar among the international community as well as human rights organisations.
The former detainee had moved to the US before being tricked into travelling for a speaking gig in Burundi via a private jet that landed in Rwanda.
He was then kidnapped and tortured by Kigali’s government, according to testimonies and rights reports.
Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen and a permanent US resident.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) had slammed the conviction at the time and said it came following “a flawed trial that is emblematic of the government’s overreach and manipulation of the justice system.”
During the Rwandan genocide, Rusesabagina served as the manager of Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali and sheltered more than 1,200 people. His heroism was met with global praise.