John Williams Ntwali, Rare Rwandan Journalist Critical of Govt, Dies

NAIROBI (Reuters) – John Williams Ntwali, one of Rwanda’s few journalists who published stories critical of the government, has died, his newspaper The Chronicles reported.

Police told The Chronicles that Williams died in a traffic accident early on Wednesday in the capital Kigali, the paper said.

He had been away from work since Monday, it added.

Human rights activists and journalists outside Rwanda immediately raised questions about the official narrative, noting how critics of President Paul Kagame’s government have repeatedly been arrested, threatened, or gone missing before.

Rwanda police spokesman John Bosco Kabera and government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on Friday.

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“Grave concerns that John Williams Ntwali – whose YouTube channel shone a light on torture and other human rights abuses in the country – was murdered,” Sonya Sceats, chief executive of UK-based charity Freedom From Torture, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

The Rwandan government has previously denied accusations that it kills its critics or commits human rights abuses.

In 2014, the U.S. State Department rebuked Rwanda for what it called a “succession of what appear to be politically motivated murders of prominent Rwandan exiles.”

Williams, who had been arrested several times before, was an editor at The Chronicles and also ran YouTube channel Pax TV – IREME News.

He reported on issues including the arrests of opposition figures, deaths of prominent government critics and forced evictions.

Last year, while reporting on evictions, he told Al Jazeera: “I’m focused on justice, human rights, and advocacy. And I know … the three are risky here in Rwanda. But I’m committed.”

“Those who try to speak out, they are jailed – harassed, intimidated or jailed. Second, forced to flee their country. Three, some of them disappear in thin air. Or even, they die.”

Human Rights Watch said in a report last year that authorities were threatening and prosecuting Rwandan journalists and YouTubers.

The U.S. State Department rebuke in 2014 followed the killing in Johannesburg of Rwanda’s former spy chief who had since become a critic of Kagame.

In 2021, opposition figure Seif Bamporiki was killed in an apparent robbery in South Africa and government critic Cassien Ntamuhanga disappeared after being arrested in Mozambique, where he had sought asylum.

Rwanda’s government has denied involvement in all of those cases.

(Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Aaron Ross and Hugh Lawson)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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