Posts Tagged ‘Kizito Mihigo’

Suspicious Death of Investigative Journalist John Williams Ntwali in Rwanda

January 24, 2023
John Williams Ntwali.
John Williams Ntwali. © Private

Human Rights Watch and others demand that the Rwandan authorities allow an effective, independent, and transparent investigation into the suspicious death of John Williams Ntwali, a leading investigative journalist and editor of the newspaper The Chronicles. Ntwali was regularly threatened due to his work as a journalist exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda and had expressed concern about his safety to Human Rights Watch and others.

John Williams Ntwali was a lifeline for many victims of human rights violations and often the only journalist who dared report on issues of political persecution and repression,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are many reasons to question the theory of a road accident, and a prompt, effective investigation, drawing on international expertise, is essential to determine whether he was murdered.

News of Ntwali’s death emerged in the evening of January 19, 2023. Police asked Ntwali’s brother to identify his body at Kacyiru Hospital morgue, telling him that Ntwali had died in a road accident the night of January 17 to 18. The police told the New Times website that Ntwali died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali, on January 18 at 2:50 a.m., but to date, have not provided details of the accident such as a police report, its exact location, or information on the others involved. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any reports about an alleged accident coming to light until the evening of January 19.

Ntwali was regularly threatened and attacked in the pro-government media for his investigative reporting. He played a leading role in covering and bringing attention to the plight of Kangondo neighborhood residents, who are in a long-standing dispute with authorities over land evictions. Recently, he also published videos on his YouTube channel about people who had suspiciously “disappeared.” His last video, posted on January 17, was about the reported disappearance of a genocide survivor who had spoken out about being beaten by police officers in 2018.

Ntwali was also one of only a few journalists independently covering high profile, politicized trials of journalists, commentators and opposition members, and posting videos about their conditions in prison. In June 2022, he told Human Rights Watch about the torture wounds he had seen on some of these critics and opponents. He also told Human Rights Watch:

I don’t know what’s going to happen to me after CHOGM [the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which took place in Kigali in June 2022]. I’m told that after CHOGM, they won’t play around with us anymore. I’ve been told five or six times. I receive phone calls from private numbers. Some [intelligence] people have come to my house twice to tell me. NISS [National Intelligence and Security Services] has told me: ‘If you don’t change your tone, after CHOGM, you’ll see what happens to you.’

On July 12, he told a friend he had survived a number of “staged accidents” in Kigali. “He was telling me about ordeals and threats he faces for his journalism,” his friend told Human Rights Watch.

Given these circumstances, Rwanda has a legal obligation to ensure a prompt, effective investigation that is capable of determining the circumstances of Ntwali’s death and identifying those responsible, with a view to bringing them to justice. An effective investigation must be independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent, conducted in full compliance with the Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death).

Because Rwandan authorities have consistently failed to ensure credible investigations into and accountability for suspicious deaths of political opponents or high-profile critics, such as Kizito Mihigo in February 2020, foreign experts such as the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions should be involved in the investigation, Human Rights Watch said. All Rwandan authorities should fully support and cooperate with the investigation, and the Commonwealth, which Rwanda currently chairs, should publicly call for such an investigation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/16/call-for-independent-investigation-into-rwandan-singer-kizito-mihigos-death/

Rwandan authorities have long targeted Ntwali. He was arrested in January 2016, in the lead up to the 2017 elections, and accused of raping a minor. Judicial officials later changed the charge to indecent assault and eventually dropped the case for lack of evidence.

At the time, Ntwali had been investigating several sensitive issues, including the death of Assinapol Rwigara, a businessman and father of would-be independent presidential candidate Diana Rwigara, whose candidacy to the 2017 elections was later rejected. The police said that Assinapol Rwigara died in a car accident in February 2015, but his family contested the authorities’ version of events.

Ntwali had also been arbitrarily arrested several other times and his website was blocked by a government regulator, apparently in retaliation for his reporting that was critical of the government.

“It is an embarrassment for the Commonwealth and a problematic message about its values that the country that presides over it is a place where the suspicious deaths of journalists and activists can be swept under the carpet,” Mudge said. “Rwandan authorities should not only not harm journalists but should be actively protecting them, and Rwanda’s partners should be holding the government to account in full for its obligations under international human rights law.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/20/rwanda-suspicious-death-investigative-journalist

https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/john-williams-ntwali-rare-rwandan-journalist-critical-govt-dies-2023-01-20/

Call for independent investigation into Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo’s death

February 16, 2021

On 17 February 2021, 10 human rights NGOs addressed an Open letter to all Commonwealth Heads of Government

Excellencies,

Re: Call for independent investigation into Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo’s death 

On the one-year anniversary of the death of popular gospel singer and peace activist, Kizito Mihigo, civil society organizations around the world are calling on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into his death in custody. As your governments prepare to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June, we are writing to ask you to engage with your counterparts in the Rwandan government in support of this call.

On February 14, 2020, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) confirmed that Mihigo had been arrested close to the border, accused of attempting to illegally cross into Burundi, joining “terrorist” groups and of corruption, as well breaching the terms of his release from prison in 2018. Just days later, on February 17, 2020, Rwanda National Police announced that Mihigo had been found dead in his police cell in Kigali at 5 am that morning, in an alleged suicide. See: https://thedigestapp.trueheroesfilms.org/laureates/f8f64eb0-a9b5-40b2-a5f5-ccfb52168854/edit

However, there are reasons to doubt this version of events. In Rwanda, dissidents and critical voices are often the target of threats, judicial harassment, and arbitrary arrest. In recent years, several opposition members and journalists have gone missing or been found dead in suspicious circumstances. After he released a song in 2014 expressing compassion for victims of the genocide and of other violence, understood as a reference to the crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front as it took control of the country in 1994, Mihigo was threatened, detained incommunicado, and imprisoned for several years. After his release in 2018, and up to the days before his death, Mihigo informed contacts that he was being threatened to give false testimony against political opponents of the government and wanted to flee the country because he feared for his safety. The news of Mihigo’s death caused shockwaves in Rwanda and beyond. Before falling out of favour with the government in 2014, Mihigo had played a prominent role in Rwandan public life including helping to compose the new national anthem in 2001 and regularly performing at official functions. A genocide survivor himself, Mihigo’s work to promote reconciliation received equally widespread recognition; in 2011, for example, First Lady Jeannette Kagame presented him with a Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers award in honour of his work.

On the day that Mihigo’s death was announced, and before an independent investigation could have been conducted, RIB spokesperson Marie-Michelle Umuhoza told local media that Mihigo had “strangled himself” with his bedsheets, had displayed “unusual behavior” while in custody, and had refused to speak with investigators, his lawyer and his family. On February 26, citing an autopsy report, the National Public Prosecution Authority concluded that Mihigo’s death “resulted from suicide by hanging” and said that it would not pursue criminal charges…

Mihigo is one of several detainees to have died in suspicious circumstances while in detention in Rwanda over the last several years. Independent, impartial and effective investigations capable of leading to credible prosecutions are essential to deter future violations and to promote accountability, justice, and the rule of law, and failure to conduct such investigations is a violation of the state’s obligations under the right to life. 

To ensure justice for Mihigo’s death, Rwandan authorities should allow an independent body to carry out an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation.

In the Commonwealth Charter of 2013, member states reaffirmed their core values and principles, including upholding human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and the role of civil society. Holding the CHOGM summit in Rwanda without addressing the absence of progress by Rwandan authorities towards accountability for human rights concerns more generally, and Mihigo’s death in particular, casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s human rights commitments.

For the sake of human rights in Rwanda and the integrity of the Commonwealth, we urge you to support the call on the Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into Mihigo’s death in custody.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zpA3pj8un5cRPt0VEKKJaNex9CjDPwyc/view

The Human Rights Foundation announces three recipients of the 2020 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. 

September 18, 2020

On 17 September 2020 the Human Rights Foundation announced the three recipients of the 2020 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. 

The 2020 Havel laureates are Chinese visual artist Badiucao, Saudi political satirist Omar Abdulaziz, and the late Rwandan gospel musician and peace and reconciliation activist Kizito Mihigo, who is the first posthumous recipient since the inception of the prize in 2012. This year’s laureates will receive their awards at 11:45 a.m. EDT on Friday, 25 September, during the 2020 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Badiucao is an exiled Chinese dissident artist based in Australia. His political artwork has unmasked the lies of the Chinese regime, raised awareness for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship of the coronavirus pandemic. Badiucao is the creator of the Lennon Flag, which became a powerful protest symbol that inspired and mobilized the global community to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. The Chinese regime has tried to silence Badiucao by intimidating his family in China.

Omar Abdulaziz is an exiled Saudi political satirist and activist based in Canada. His satirical news show on YouTube has uncovered the lies of the Saudi regime. His activism has raised awareness about ongoing repression and human rights abuses in the kingdom, where freedom of expression is nonexistent and political satire is a crime. The Saudi regime has tried to silence his activism by intimidating his family, offering bribes, and making him a target of surveillance.

Kizito Mihigo was a Rwandan catholic gospel singer, songwriter, organist, and the founder of the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation, which promoted peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence in schools and prisons through concerts, plays, and poetry. An ethnic Tutsi, he showed tremendous courage in a 2014 song in which he called for compassion for all civilians killed by Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated ruling Rwandan Patriotric Front forces after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. The regime quickly banned the song as it contradicted its official narrative, which presents ethnic Tutsis as the sole victims of Rwanda’s tragedy. Mihigo released the song with full knowledge that it would lead to terrible consequences. “The message is sometimes more important than the messenger,” he said. He was detained in order to be paraded as a conspirator in a violent anti-government plot and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released on pardon after serving three years, but he was arrested again while attempting to leave the country and died in police custody in February 2020. The regime claimed it was a suicide, but Mihigo told friends weeks before his death that he had been under government harassment and pressure to provide false testimony against political opponents.

For more information on the award: https://thedigestapp-public.trueheroesfilms.org/award/438F3F5D-2CC8-914C-E104-CE20A25F0726

for last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/27/anti-junta-rap-group-awarded-the-vaclav-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent/

https://mailchi.mp/5abc37c73aa7/2020-oslo-freedom-forum-program-details-sep-24-287847?e=f80cec329e