Rwanda rejects call for independent probe into gospel singer’s death


Calls for an independent investigation into the death of a popular Rwandan gospel singer Kizito Mihigo who was found dead in a police cell on Monday morning has been rejected by the Rwandan government.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative have all called for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of the 38-year-old musician who was popular for his message on peace and reconciliation.

Rwandan police announced on Monday that he had committed suicide while in custody. Friends and activists immediately cast doubt on the police narrative and instead suspected foul play.

His death came three days after he was arrested near the border with Burundi, with police accusing him of attempting to flee the country and join rebel groups fighting against Rwanda. Mr. Mihigo was banned from leaving Rwanda due to a previous conviction.

On rejecting the call of an independent investigation, the spokesperson for Rwanda’s Investigation Bureau, Marie Michelle Umuhoza, told the BBC that “Rwanda is an independent, sovereign state capable of carrying out investigations on anything”.

Human Rights Watch official had told the BBC Newsday programme that independent investigation would look into things like surveillance cameras around where the singer was being held.

But Ms. Umuhoza said Rwanda is already conducting its own investigation into his death.

“I don’t see the point for that other independent investigation, in an independent country,” she said, while not disclosing when the investigation will be completed.

She also said the singer’s family was free to bury him.

Mihigo, who had been sentenced in 2015 to 10 years in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government, was released on presidential pardon on 15 September 2018 along with over 2,000 prisoners.

Many believe his song Igisobanurocy’ urupfu, translating to “the meaning of death”, released in 2014 days before the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, was what got him into trouble in the current regime.

The song is widely seen as challenging the officially accepted narrative of the Rwandan genocide – subtly hinting at crimes allegedly committed by the ruling party Rwanda Patriotic Front. (Source: BBC)