Hotel Rwanda hero released from prison following Qatar and US talks

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Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwandawas released from prison by the Rwandan government on Friday after talks between the United States and Qatar.

The release of the hotelier and activist, played by American actor Don Cheadle in the film, is a public relations boost for the British government, who has been heavily criticized for securing a $146m deal to deport migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda.

US President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken your welcome the news, with Blinken thanking Qatar for its assistance.

Rusesabagina, 68, was sentenced to 25 years in September 2021 for his links to an opposition group with an armed wing. He denied responsibility for armed attacks and boycotted the trial, saying it was a sham.

In an October 2022 letter to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina said: “I regret that I no longer cared to ensure that members of the MRCD coalition fully adhered to the principles of non-violence.” He wrote that if pardoned and released, he would spend the rest of his days in “quiet contemplation” in the United States.

Actor Don Cheadle (C) with Paul Rusesabagina in Los Angeles in 2004 (AFP)

Rusesabagina was transferred from Mageragere Prison to the Qatari ambassador’s residence in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, on Friday night. He is expected to stay there for a few days before flying to Doha and then on to the US, where he will live.

Majed al-Ansari, spokesman for the Qatari foreign ministry, confirmed the commutation of Rusesabagina’s sentence and said in a statement: “The procedure to transfer him to the State of Qatar is in full swing; and he will then go to the USA.”

It is understood that Qatar played the role of mediator between the Rwandan government, the United States and Rusesabagina’s two daughters, who were actively campaigning for their father’s release.

Paul Kagame hit Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on March 21. Yolande Makolo, Rwandan government spokeswoman, told Middle East Eye that “Qatar was actively seeking a humanitarian solution and is facilitating post-release logistics”. She said the British government had nothing to do with it.

The Rwandan government said the commutation of Rusesabagina’s sentence was also “a result of a shared desire to reset US-Rwanda relations”. Kagame has been under pressure from Washington to release the high-profile prisoner, who said he had been “kidnapped” after he was thought to be flying from Dubai to Burundi in 2019.

Posters in the Georgetown area of ​​Washington called Rusesabagina a “hostage of an oppressive regime” and fueled Rwandan anger as well as US desire to resolve the situation.

“After accepting the case of Rusesabagina, the US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, his political profile rose in Washington, attracting support from congress and civil society … and complicating US-Rwanda relations,” Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, told MEE.

Rwandan diplomatic network

Rusesabagina rose to fame during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when he housed over 1,200 Hutu and Tutsi refugees fleeing the infamous Interahamwe militia in the hotel he managed. At least 500,000 people were killed in the genocide, which was carried out by the Hutu-led government against the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus.

After finding international fame after release Hotel RwandaRusesabagina became a public speaker and moved into politics, becoming a vocal critic of Kagame, a former military officer who has ruled the small east African country since 2000.

Under Kagame, Rwanda has been heralded in the West for its development but has faced sharp criticism from human rights groups for its violent crackdown on political opposition and its use of torture and other ill-treatment.

Rwanda’s support for the M23 militia, which is accused of summary killings and mass rape in eastern Congo, is seen as deeply destabilizing and has fueled the concerns of the Biden administration.

However, Kagame, a renowned political operator, is extremely valuable to governments around the world. Ghana and Kenya have rejected the migration deal with the United Kingdom, and the Rwandan army is currently protecting French oil interests in Mozambique. Rwanda also maintains good relations with Russia and China.

Israel game book

One of Kagame’s closest relationships is with Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two leaders reached a cash deal on an asylum similar to the one later agreed with the United Kingdom.

In 2014, the Netanyahu government began sending male refugees – allegedly “willingly” – to Rwanda. “In reality, consent was obtained through their imprisonment, harassment and/or denial of basic human rights,” according to Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack.

After a legal challenge, Netanyahu agreed to pay the Kagame government $5,000 for each unwilling refugee it took in. In 2018, after most of the refugees fled to Rwanda, Israel’s supreme court, now under attack from a new government led by Netanyahu, stopped the deportations.

UK minister coming to Rwanda on ‘publicity stunt’ trip to deal with deportations

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Rwanda and Israel remain close allies, with the African country characterized by a former New York Times correspondent as “a post-genocide country whose national ethos is, simply put, Never Again”.

Rwanda’s politics and power play have angered some of its neighbours, however. In the an interview Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), told The Times that Britain was “turning a blind eye” to Kagame’s abuses, undemocratic record and “horrors by his proxy army in eastern Congo”.

Tshisekedi claimed that the UK was staying silent about the atrocities in Rwanda because of the deportation deal brokered by Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Andrew Mitchell, a British foreign office minister and Kagame ally, who is known to oppose the deportation plan, is expected to meet the Congolese in the DRC soon.

Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has put its “stop the boats” plan – of which Rwanda is a key part – at the forefront of its messaging for next year’s general election.

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