Death of Rwandan gospel singer in police cells triggers alarm

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Rwanda’s Catholic songwriter, organist, and gospel singer Kizito Mihigo was found dead in his cell, three days after he was arrested by Rwanda Police while attempting to cross the border into Burundi.

Mihigo was released from prison in 2018 after he was pardoned by President Paul Kagame, having been accused of planning the president’s assassination. The release of Mihigo and Victoire Ingabire occurred days before the election of the Francophonie’s general secretary Louise Mushikiwabo from Rwanda, in what appeared to be a lobbying effort by Rwanda to reach the highest level of the French language institution.

Mihigo, according to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), was found dead in his cell and may have used his bedsheets to hang himself on a window, an explanation that did not convince the family of the deceased, or his fans and supporters.

Rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Lucha (from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) called for an investigation into the singer’s death.

Lucha openly accused Kagame of being behind the killing because the singer wrote and sang songs that called for reconciliation between Congo and Rwanda, as well as reconciliation within Rwanda. In 2014, the singer wrote a song that said that in Rwanda, genocide victims need to reconcile with the rest of the population, calling on the ruling party to recognise that, even in other ethnic groups, there are victims of the killings and they need to also be heard as the government only commemorates the death of Tutsis.

Since that song came out, his ties with the Rwandan government and the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front, for which he also sang, were broken until he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years. Kagame later pardoned him.

RIB spokesperson Michelle Umuhoza said Rwanda does not need foreigners to investigate his death, saying the bureau is competent to do so.