Kizito Mihigo death: Popular Rwandan musician found dead in police cell

Zoe Tidman
Rwandan musician Kizito Mihigo has died in a police cell, authorities say: Stephanie Aglietti/AFP via Getty Images

A popular Rwandan musician has been found dead in his police cell following his arrest last week.

Kizito Mihigo, regarded by many as an important cultural figure, killed himself while in detention, according to police.

The official account of a suicide is expected to be met with scepticism in a country where the government is frequently accused of targeting perceived critics.

Mihigo – an ethnic Tutsi who survived the 1994 genocide against his community – was arrested last week for trying to leave Rwanda and join anti-government militant groups, according to authorities.

He was being held in a police cell while officers investigated this alleged attempt to illegally cross the border into neighbouring Burundi and bribery accusations, John Bosco Kabera, police spokesman, said.

Lewis Mudge, central Africa directors at Human Rights Watch, called for an investigation that would examine the possibility that Mihigo ”could have been ill-treated or killed in custody”.

“Too often, sensitive cases in Rwanda result in mysterious deaths or disappearances,” he said.

Mihigo – whose music explores issues around the Rwanda genocide – had previously been jailed for conspiracy to murder or harm Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and other top officials.

He was also found guilty of complicity to overthrow the government.

Mr Kagame pardoned Mihigo – along with Rwanda‘s leading opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire – in 2018, three years after the gospel musician’s conviction.

Police said his attempt to escape the country nullified the pardon.

His new charges included attempt to illegally cross to Burundi, joining terrorist groups and corruption, according to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau.

Mihigo was a well-known singer in Rwanda who used to sing the national anthem at important national events.

He was arrested in 2014 weeks after releasing “The Meaning of Death”, a song which seemed to challenge the official narrative of the genocide.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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