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Rwanda: CPJ Calls for Credible Investigation Into Death of Rwandan Journalist John Williams Ntwali

Nairobi — Rwandan authorities must provide a credible account of the circumstances surrounding the death of journalist John Williams Ntwali, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Police said that Ntwali was killed in the early morning of January 18 in Kigali, the capital, after a car hit a motorcycle taxi he was riding, according to news reports, which said that police arrested the driver of that car.

Ntwali reported critically on governance and human rights issues in Rwanda on the YouTube-based outlet Pax TV-Ireme News, which he founded, and worked as an editor for the privately owned newspaper The Chronicles. He had repeatedly received threats over his work, according to news reports.

After his death, Human Rights Watch quoted one of the journalist’s friends saying Ntwali had survived “staged accidents” in Kigali. The BBC quoted an attendee of Ntwali’s funeral saying that unidentified people had previously tried to hit a motorcycle the journalist was riding.

“Given the frequent and grave threats that John Williams Ntwali faced for his journalism, Rwanda has a duty to provide a credible explanation for his death,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal, in New York. “The current information available about his case leaves many questions unanswered. Authorities should also allow the involvement of U.N. and African Commission experts on extrajudicial killings in the investigation to bolster its credibility.”

A few days before his death, Ntwali aired a report on Pax TV-Ireme News, which has about 30,000 followers on YouTube, about the imprisonment of The Chronicles founder Christopher Kayumba, who is also a Rwandan politician. Ntwali also recently covered the plight of political prisoners in Rwanda, and allegations that detained YouTubers had faced torture behind bars.

That Human Rights Watch report said that Ntwali had told the organization in June 2022 that members of Rwanda’s intelligence agency ordered him to “change your tone” or else he would “see what happens.”

When asked for comment, Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo sent CPJ a link to a tweet saying that eight people had died in motorcycle taxi accidents in January, and that “groundless insinuations” did not help the case.

The U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America quoted a local journalist saying that he was with Ntwali on the evening of January 17, and that Ntwali seemed cautious and was worried about being surveilled.