In a country where journalism can be a perilous endeavor, the mysterious death of a Rwandan journalist, John Williams Ntwali, continues to raise unsettling questions about the limits of freedom of press. The founder of the YouTube channel Pax TV- IREME News and editor of the private newspaper The Chronicles, Ntwali was a voice for the voiceless in Rwanda. His abrupt death six months ago continues to echo in the silence that has since surrounded it.
As Lewis Mudge, Director, Central Africa in Human Rights Watch succinctly put, “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.” Ntwali’s death raises an unsettling question about the safety of journalists who dare to report unvarnished truths, thereby exposing themselves to potential threats and retribution.
Rwandan police reported on January 19 that Ntwali had been killed in a car accident the previous day in Kimihurura, Kigali. The driver allegedly responsible for the accident was quickly arrested and put to trial. However, the authorities failed to provide the exact location of the alleged accident, any photographic or video evidence, or detailed information on others involved in the accident. The swift trial and conviction of the driver for manslaughter and unintentional bodily harm, held without the presence of independent observers or journalists, has only intensified the clouds of suspicion.
As Mudge rightly points out, “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.” Ntwali’s life was marked by regular threats and attacks in pro-government media, and he had expressed fear for his safety to friends, colleagues, and Human Rights Watch researchers. The absence of transparency surrounding his death and subsequent trial suggests a glaring violation of due process.
There has been an international clamor for an independent, impartial, and effective investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Ntwali’s death. Numerous civil society organizations and press associations globally have urged the Rwandan authorities to ensure justice, an appeal that has, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears.
The international community must now shoulder the responsibility to prevent Ntwali’s case from being swept under the rug. “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,” says Mudge. Rwanda’s international partners, including the Commonwealth, which Rwanda currently chairs, must advocate for the rights of journalists and demand a credible, transparent investigation into Ntwali’s death.
Justice delayed is justice denied. The memory of John Williams Ntwali and the future of journalism in Rwanda hinge on the transparency and integrity of the process that seeks to answer the lingering questions about his untimely and suspicious death. Ntwali’s death is a grim reminder of the trials and tribulations faced by those brave enough to speak truth to power. It’s a clarion call for the international community to ensure that justice prevails, and that the safety of journalists is guaranteed globally.