Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and 89 other civil society organizations and press associations from around the world have urged the Rwandan Authorities to conduct an independent, impartial, and effective investigation, drawing on international expertise, into the death of Mr. John Williams Ntwali, a leading investigative journalist.
In a joint statement issued on January 31, 2023, the groups called on Rwanda’s international partners to prevail on the authorities to allow and cooperate fully with such an investigation. According to the statement, Mr. Ntwali’s family was informed of his death on January 19, 2023, when the police asked his brother to identify his body at the Kacyiru Hospital morgue.
The police told the New Times that Mr. Ntwali died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali, on January 18 at 2:50 a.m.
The groups noted that: “Two weeks after the alleged accident, Rwandan authorities have failed to provide a police report, the exact location of the alleged accident, any photo or video evidence, or detailed information on the other people involved.”
A journalist who saw Mr. Ntwali a day before his death told Voice of America: “He looked cautious and switched off his phone before we started talking. He said phones could not be trusted. He told me that all the doors on which he knocked were closed but he was determined to face life. His death was so sudden.”
According to him, Mr. Ntwali was regularly threatened and attacked by pro-government media for his investigative reporting.
In June 2022, Mr. Ntwali told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that: ‘I’m told that after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (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. National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has told me: “If you don’t change your tone, after CHOGM, you’ll see what happens to you.”
Mr. Ntwali played a leading role in covering and bringing attention to the plight of Kangondo neighbourhood residents, who are in a long-standing dispute with the authorities over land evictions. At the time, he told Al Jazeera: ‘I’m focused on justice, human rights, and advocacy, the three are risky here in Rwanda. But I’m committed. “Those who try to speak out, are harassed, intimidated or jailed. Second, forced to flee their country. Three, some of them disappear in thin air. Or even, they die.”
The groups stated that Mr. Ntwali was also one of a few journalists in Rwanda independently covering high profile, politicised trials of journalists, commentators and opposition members, and posting videos about their conditions in prison.
The groups reminded the Rwandan authorities of their obligation under the international human rights law to ensure an effective investigation into Mr. Ntwali’s death.
They also cited the Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance, adopted by the Commonwealth Law Ministers in November, which states that “Member states should act decisively to end impunity through impartial, prompt and effective investigations into all alleged cases of killings, attacks and ill-treatment of journalists and media workers, by prosecutions to bring the instigators and perpetrators of such crimes to justice and by the provision of effective redress for the victims.”
They pointed out that the 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.
They therefore, sought the involvement of regional and international experts, such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights working group on the death penalty, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings and enforced disappearances in Africa in the investigations.