In 2021, the opposition figure was convicted on eight charges including being a member of a terrorist group and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Qatar has thanked the United States and Rwanda for cooperating in the release of prominent Rwandan opposition figure Paul Rusesabagina, commonly known as the ‘Hotel Rwanda hero’.
In a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dr. Majed Al Ansari thanked Kigali and Washington for helping release Rusesabagina and his companions after his 25-year sentence was commuted.
Dr. Al Ansari told the press that “Qatar held many contacts to bridge the views” between the US and Rwanda to reduce the opposition figure’s sentence.
“As a result the Rwandan government decided to consider positively this request, and the dissident arrived in Doha, and he is waiting to travel to join his family in the American city of Houston,” Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement on the briefing.
The Qatari official noted Doha’s “essential” partnership with Kigali and the “great trust between the leaderships of the two countries that allowed it” to facilitate Rusesabagina’s release.
On Friday, Qatar succeeded with helping secure the release of Rusesabagina, along with several others, from Rwandan prison after two and a half years in jail.
Yolande Makolo, spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, told the New York Times (NYT) at the time that the release came following months of talks between Qatar, the Rwandan government, the White House and Rusesabagina’s family.
However, the Rwandan official noted that despite the sentence being commuted, it does not “extinguish the underlying conviction.”
Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and a permanent US resident, was a vocal critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and came to be known as a hero during the 1994 genocide.
Sources confirmed to Doha News that the 68-year-old opposition figure arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he will conduct medical exams before departing for the US on Wednesday.
A breakthrough in Rusesabagina’s case was reported just days after a meeting between Kagame and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha last week.
“Qatar’s facilitation role reflects the mutual trust and strong relations between the State of Qatar and partners in Rwanda and the United States,” Dr. Al-Ansari said on Friday, noting Doha’s role as “a neutral mediator” in numerous files.
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.
Former US President George Bush had awarded Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Rusesabagina was the centre of 2004 Oscar-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
However, Rusesabagina was kidnapped and tortured in 2020 by Kigali’s government after being tricked into travelling for a speaking gig in Burundi, according to testimonies and rights reports.
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.
Rights groups and numerous campaigns have since rallied to appeal for his release.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the conviction at the time came following “a flawed trial that is emblematic of the government’s overreach and manipulation of the justice system.”
Amnesty International had also listed numerous fair trial violations during the pre-trial period including what it described as his “unlawful transfer to Rwanda”.