The Government of Rwanda has released more details ahead of the planned release of Paul Rusesabagina, the founder the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) coalition, the former spokesperson of the group and 18 others.
A statement released by the Ministry of Justice on Friday indicated that Rusesabagina, Nsabimana and the co-accused will benefit from a presidential pardon in accordance with Art. 228 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, which gives the President of the Republic a prerogative to commute sentences of a select group of individuals.
Rusesabagina and Nsabimana as well as their co-accused, who were convicted on terror-related charges, in October last year wrote letters to President Paul Kagame seeking clemency and a cabinet meeting chaired by President Kagame was expected to commute their sentences.
“Following approval by Cabinet on 24 March 2023, and in accordance with Art. 228 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, the prison sentences of the following individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences have been commuted by Presidential Order, after consideration of their requests for clemency: Paul Rusesabagina, Callixte NSABIMANA (a.k.a. “Sankara”),”
“Another 18 members of MRCD-FLN convicted alongside their leaders Paul Rusesabagina and Callixte Nsabimana were granted collective commutation under Art. 229,” the Ministry said in a statement.
The government further said that 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,”
“Other penalties imposed by the Court, such as compensation owed to victims, are not affected by this commutation and thus remain in force. The letters requesting clemency are being released in the public interest,” the statement said singling out three other individuals convicted in unrelated cases who also had their sentences commuted under Art. 228.
They include Ronaldo Bill Rutayisire, Justin Nsengiyumva and Ephraim Rwamwenge. A further 358 individuals convicted of various offences were also granted collective commutation under Art. 229.
Details of the letters emerge
The Ministry of Justice also published some of the letters the convicts wrote to the Head of State, including one by Rusesabagina in which he requests from pardon on humanitarian grounds, to allow him to reunite with his family in the US, where he is resident.
“I am writing to humbly request a pardon so that I may retun1to my family in the United States. There are many reasons I cite in favor of this request, the most predominant of which is my advanced age and a number of chronic maladies that unfortunately will persist for the remainder of my life,” Rusesabagina wrote in the letter seeking for clemency, dated October 14, 2022
“I wish to express my regret for any connection my work with the MRCD may have had to violent actions taken by the FLN. First, to be clear, I do not condone violence. Violence is never acceptable, including the use of violence to achieve political aims. Violence as a political tool is plainly wrong and more grievously so when used to target civilians,” he added.
Rusesabagina added that he abhors any violence committed against civilians, whether by FLN or other groups, which he said he will continue to publicly condemn.
“The loss of a single human life is always deeply regrettable,” he added. Rusesabagina was convicted to 25 years in prison by the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-border Crimes after he was found guilty on charges related to terrorism, in September 2021, a sentence later affirmed by the Court of Appeal in April 2022.
In the same trial, Nsabimana, alias Sankara, was handed a 20 year sentence in the same trial but later reduced to 15 year by the Court of Appeal.
Rusesabagina said that as a former head of the MRCD, he regrets not taking more care to ensure that members of the MRCD coalition fully adhered to the principles of non-violence in which he fully and deeply believes, and has always ascribed.
“I extend my heartfelt sorrow for any pain FLN’s actions have caused to victims and their families. 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,” Rusesabagina said.
“Your Excellency, I ask you to grant me this pardon on humanitarian grounds so that I may move on from here to be with my family as I spend the remainder of my days as a husband, father and grandfather, as you carry on for a hopeful future for the people of Rwanda.” he added.