Three weeks after the suspicious death of John Williams Ntwali, one of Rwanda’s last remaining independent investigative journalists, Rwandan authorities have failed to ensure a credible, transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death. Instead, they have followed their well-honed strategy of obstructing investigations, evading questions, and deflecting attention.
On Tuesday, journalists were called to hear a court’s verdict against the driver involved in the alleged car accident that reportedly took Ntwali’s life. It was news for many that the trial had taken place. A judge at the Kagarama primary court said the driver, Moise Emmanuel Bagirishya, charged with involuntary manslaughter, had “pleaded guilty and apologized for the accident.” Bagirishya, who was not at the verdict reading, was fined one million Rwandan francs (US$920).
The trial, which reportedly took place on January 31 behind closed doors, looks like a flimsy cover-up attempt. We still don’t know the location of the alleged accident, or the make and description of the vehicles involved. We haven’t seen photographs or video footage of the accident or a police report.
From the outset, Ntwali’s death was suspicious. He exposed human rights violations in a country where those who challenge the government regularly go missing or die in mysterious circumstances, including car accidents. Ntwali had been threatened and showed signs that he worried about his security. The authorities’ claim – that he was killed in a road accident at 2:50 a.m. without any form of ID or witnesses present – beleaguers belief. That authorities didn’t inform his family for almost 48 hours reinforces these suspicions.
The silence from most of Rwanda’s partners has been deafening. The Commonwealth, which President Paul Kagame presides over, has been silent. Any calls for transparency and for the Rwandan government to be held accountable were met with contempt.
Despite the call by over a hundred organizations for an independent investigation into Ntwali’s death, it is clear the Rwandan government does not want it to happen. The question now is, will Rwanda’s allies and donors let Ntwali’s name quietly join the growing list of critics and opponents who have died in murky, unexplained circumstances? Because if this silence over Ntwali’s death continues, the list will likely grow further.