Kizito Mihigo named as the first artist to receive prestigious human rights award posthumously

General Situation

Félicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects in the 1994 genocide, who was arrested in France in May 2020 after spending two decades living under a false name, was transferred to The Hague, Netherlands. Kabuga is appearing before a judge of the trial chamber of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which is handling outstanding cases for Rwanda.

On 24th October 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, former manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he hid and protected Hutu and Tutsi refugees from the Interahamwe militia in 1994, was denied bail and ordered to remain in custody for a further 30 days. Rusesabagina has been charged with 13 offences, including terrorism and complicity in murder, for his alleged association with and financing of an armed movement - the National Liberation Front (NLF). He has also been an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame. His family members are continuing their advocacy for him to be released and returned to the US, where he holds legal status. On 17th December 2020, Rusesabagina filed a lawsuit in Texas against the Greek charter company that operated the flight that took him to Rwanda, which he claims was a kidnapping operation in which the company was complicit. 

Expression

On 25th September 2020, late gospel musician Kizito Mihigo who died in police custody in February 2020, was posthumously awarded the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, an international award that celebrates artists working under extremely restrictive conditions. This was the first time that the award was given posthumously. Mihigo’s death has still not been fully investigated despite international calls for an independent review of the circumstances. As previously reported on the Monitor, Mihigo, a popular singer and activist, was found dead in his cell with police alleging suicide, a claim which was refuted by civil society.

Tensions have been building between the BBC and the government of Rwanda and its supporters. Following the BBC publishing an article entitled “The Loyalty Oath Keeping Rwandans Abroad in Check,” on 18th November 2020, Rwandan news outlets ran several pieces accusing the BBC of sensationalism and making false and misleading allegations. According to the article by the BBC, members from the Rwandan diaspora were subjected to oathing ceremonies while abroad, in what seemed to point to an aggressive global crackdown on dissent by the Rwandan government.

On 18th December 2020, the Rwandan Media Commission (RMC) announced plans to officially register YouTube channels that operate as media outlets, for what they say is meant to increase accountability. The registration process costs RWF 50,000 ($52) and requires owners to prove that they are trained journalists. The plans were met with concern from many bloggers and advocates of free speech. Some suggested that the plans would contradict the law regulating media in Rwanda, concerning the right to information through the internet. On 30th December 2020, the RMC backtracked and suspended the registration of YouTube channels after several complaints from bloggers.