Becoming a journalist in Rwanda is a brave undertaking. During his career, John Williams Ntwali, the founder of the YouTube channel Pax TV- IREME News and editor of the private The Chronicles newspaper, reported on issues few dared to go near, often giving a voice to the oppressed.
His death six months ago left a gaping hole. “Ntwali is gone too soon, in bad circumstances that, we Rwandan journalists, are even afraid to discuss… His end left us […] worried about doing our profession and being free,” a Rwandan journalist said shortly after his death.
Today, many questions remain. On January 19, Rwanda police reported that Ntwali died in a road accident in Kimihurura, Kigali on January 18 at 2:50 a.m. and that the driver of the car involved in the collision had been arrested. In the weeks that followed, Rwandan authorities failed to provide the exact location of the alleged accident, any photo or video evidence, or detailed information on others involved in it. A hasty trial was held in the absence of independent observers – including journalists – and the driver was convicted of manslaughter and unintentional bodily harm.
The reasons why Ntwali’s death is suspicious are clear. He was regularly threatened and attacked in pro-government media and expressed fear for his safety to friends, fellow journalists, and Human Rights Watch researchers. The lack of details in the verdict suggests there was no effective investigation into Ntwali’s death, despite Rwanda’s legal obligation to ensure one was conducted. Considering the lack of transparency around the trial, scores of civil society organizations and press associations from across the globe reiterated the call on Rwandan authorities to allow an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. This has not happened.
At the international level, there is a responsibility to ensure this case is not forgotten. If local voices in Rwanda have been silenced, regional and international voices must rise in their place – the safety of other journalists in Rwanda depends on it. It is not too late for Rwanda’s partners, including the Commonwealth, which Rwanda currently chairs, to speak up for the rights of journalists and call for a credible and transparent investigation.