Kagame sees 'way forward' for jailed 'Hotel Rwanda' hero

Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina C was jailed for 25 years in 2021.  By Simon Wohlfahrt AFP
MAR 13, 2023 LISTEN
Paul Rusesabagina (C) was jailed for 25 years in 2021. By Simon Wohlfahrt (AFP)

Rwanda is working to end a showdown with the United States and rights groups over the jailing of a government critic whose life inspired a Hollywood film, President Paul Kagame said Monday.

Paul Rusesabagina was jailed for 25 years in 2021 on terrorism charges, after a trial his supporters say was a sham that was plagued with irregularities.

Without offering any commitment to release the ailing 68-year-old, the Rwandan leader told an international forum that "there is work going on" over the case.

Rusesabagina was the manager of a Kigali hotel and is credited with helping to save hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide in which about 800,000 people died.

Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the 2004 movie "Hotel Rwanda", became a vocal critic of Kagame, founding his own party.

The United States said Rusesabagina -- who holds Belgian citizenship and a US green card -- was "wrongfully detained" after a plane carrying him to Burundi was diverted to Rwanda in 2020.

He was accused of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group which is blamed for attacks inside Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.

Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.

He was found guilty one year later and his family says his health has deteriorated in detention.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and rights groups have raised the case with Rwanda, but Kagame said last year that the United States could not "bully" him into ordering a release.

Speaking via videolink at the Global Security Forum in Doha, Kagame signalled a possible softening in Rwanda's approach.

"There is discussion, there is looking at all possible ways of resolving the issue without compromising the fundamental aspects of that case. I think there is going to be a way forward," Kagame said.

Rusesabagina's family last year filed a $400 million lawsuit in the United States against Kagame, the Rwandan government and other figures for allegedly abducting and torturing him.