Rusesabagina, the former President of the MRCD-FLRN terror group, had been sentenced to 25 years in 2021 for his involvement in terrorism activities. However, in March 2023, he was released from Mageragere prison after President Paul Kagame commuted his sentence. This decision came about following Rusesabagina’s request for a pardon, which he had submitted in an October 2022 letter.
Surprisingly, just three months after his release, Rusesabagina made statements that contradicted his previous letter, in which he had pleaded for clemency, citing his advanced age and chronic health issues, and claiming that he had no personal or political ambitions anymore.
In his letter dated October 14th, Rusesabagina expressed regret for any association his work with MRCD may have had with the violent actions taken by the FLN.
"As the former head of the MRCD, I regret not taking more care to ensure that members of the MRCD coalition fully adhered to the principles of non-violence... If I am granted a pardon and released, I understand fully that I will spend the remainder of my days in the United States in quiet reflection. I can assure you through this letter that I hold no personal or political ambitions otherwise. I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me," he wrote.
Despite this letter, Rusesabagina surprised many by claiming during the recent Oslo Freedom Forum that he was released due to pressure.
He addressed the participants, stating, "Today, I am a free man because of your voice and the voices of many others... All of you came together to advocate for my release and the release of all political prisoners. For me, you have succeeded." He added, "My freedom demonstrates that when you stand up for what you believe in, when you come together in solidarity and are guided by the principles of human rights and democracy, you win."
Tito Rutaremara, the Chairperson of the Rwanda Elders’ Advisory Forum, has questioned why Rusesabagina is praising human rights activists while disregarding his earlier letter requesting clemency.
Rutaremara pointed out that the letter, in which Rusesabagina himself requested a pardon from the President of the Republic and signed it, is available for anyone to see.
He emphasized that Rusesabagina had admitted to being a criminal and had confessed to his crimes, which gave no reason for him to be retained in prison.
"Why did he write the letter requesting clemency if he was released by those activists?" he wondered.
During a cabinet meeting in March 2023, the release of Rusesabagina and other individuals convicted of terrorism charges was approved on the grounds of presidential clemency.
This decision followed letters in which the individuals confessed their crimes and requested a pardon.
Rusesabagina had been arrested in 2020, along with Nsabimana Callixte, also known as "Sankara," the spokesperson for the FLN, and 18 others connected to the same case.
They were all released on presidential clemency on March 24th, 2023. besides, additional 358 individuals convicted of various offenses were granted collective commutation on the same day.
Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction. If any individual benefitting from early release repeats offences of a similar nature, the commutation can be revoked and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served, in accordance with the conditions specified in the Presidential Order.