The man who inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and Rwanda was liberated From a terrorism conviction last week, he returned to the United States on Wednesday, where he will be reunited with his family after more than two years in prison, a person familiar with the matter said.
Paul Rusesbagina’s arrival in the United States was expected this week. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that Rousesbagina was in Doha, Qatar, and would return to the United States.
Rusesbagina’s plane landed in Houston Wednesday afternoon and he will travel next door to a military hospital in San Antonio, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans. Rusesbagina was lying on the ground and was on her way to meet her family in a car, the man said.
Rusesbagina, 68, a US legal resident and Belgian citizen, is credited with sheltering 1,000 ethnic Tutsis in the hotel she ran during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed. He received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.
Simon Wohlfahrt via Getty Images
Rusesbagina went missing during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2020 and turned up in handcuffs in Rwanda days later. His family alleges he was abducted and taken to Rwanda against his will to stand trial.
In 2021, He was sentenced 25 years in prison after being found guilty in Rwanda of eight charges, including membership of a terrorist group, murder and kidnapping after a widely criticized trial.
Last week, the Rwandan government commuted his sentence following diplomatic intervention by the United States.
Rusesbagina was accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The armed group has claimed some responsibility for attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that left nine Rwandans dead.
Rusesbagina testified at the trial that he helped form armed groups to help refugees but said he never supported violence – and wanted to distance himself from its deadly attacks.
Rusesbagina claimed he was arrested in response to criticism of longtime President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.
Rusesbagina became an outspoken critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, living first in Belgium and later in the United States.
His arrest has been a source of friction with the United States and others as Rwanda’s government comes under pressure over tensions with neighboring Congo and plans to deport British asylum seekers to the small East African nation.
Rights activists and others have been urging Rwandan authorities to release him, saying his health is deteriorating.
In October, the ailing Rusesbagina signed a letter to Kagame, which was posted on the Justice Ministry’s website, in which he said that if he was pardoned and released to live in the United States, he would have no personal or political ambitions and “I will leave questions. Rwandan politics behind me.”
Last year US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met Kagame in Rwanda and discussed the case.
White House National Security Council spokesman Kirby said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan was personally involved in the case, “really doing the ultimate heavy lifting to get Paul released and get him home.”