Rwanda: Questionable trial after journalist's death

86 organizations reiterate call for an independent investigation.



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Rwandan authorities must allow an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the death of the Rwandan journalist John Williams Ntwali, 86 civil society organizations and media associations said today, reiterating a 31 January appeal. A credible process should be carried out given the hasty conviction of the driver of the car allegedly involved in a collision with the motorcycle he was travelling on and the lack of transparency surrounding the investigation.

On 19 January 2023, Rwanda police reported that Ntwali died in a road accident in Kimihurura, Kigali on 18 January at 2.50 a.m. and that the driver of the car involved in the collision had been arrested. Ntwali, founder of the YouTube channel Pax TV- IREME News and editor of the private The Chronicles newspaper, exposed human rights abuses in Rwanda and had received threats in the past. Shortly before his death, he expressed concerns for his safety. Despite the suspicions surrounding his death and the high levels of interest in the case, no further details were provided until 7 February when the court told journalists that the trial had been held in just one session on 31 January, and that the driver had been convicted of manslaughter and unintentional bodily harm. The trial was held in the absence of independent observers or journalists. The verdict was delivered at the Kagarama Primary Court in Kigali.

The court’s written decision says that the accident took place on an unidentified road near the University of Lay Adventists of Kigali, which the driver apparently took to avoid a police checkpoint on the main road because he did not have a valid motor vehicle inspection certificate. The written decision said that the speeding car hit the motorcycle from behind on the unlit road, knocking the passenger John Williams Ntwali to the ground. While Ntwali is said to have died on the spot, the motorcycle driver survived with minor injuries. The driver of the car was fined 1 million Rwandan francs (approximately 920 USD), having reportedly confessed to the charges.

The lack of details in the verdict suggests that there w