Sunday, June 26, 2022

Deportation flights continue despite Rwanda ignoring Britain’s concerns over political killings

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Kizito Mihigo, a famous Rwandan gospel singer, was found dead in his cell shortly after his arrest in 2020

Kizito Mihigo, 38, a famous Rwandan gospel singer, reconciliation activist and government opponent, was found dead in his cell days after his arrest in 2020.

The British government is proceeding with its plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, despite ignoring concerns about political killings in the Central African nation.

His death prompted a letter from Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – in a letter to a Rwandan exile seen by I – his “anticipation of a prompt, independent and transparent investigation by the Rwandan authorities”.

However, no further investigation into the death was initiated. Despite this, the British government continued to negotiate the asylum agreement with Rwanda.

The deal will cost the UK £120million, with most of the money handed over to President Paul Kagame’s government to help provide asylum procedures, shelter and integration.

Etienne Mutabazi, a Rwandan exile living in Johannesburg, called Mihigo’s death a “murder”.

Mr Mutabazi, legal officer for the Rwanda National Congress – a party founded in exile against the Kagame regime – claimed that the Rwandan police leadership carried out the killing, which is why the government is refusing to allow an independent investigation into the death.

Groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called for an independent and transparent investigation into Mihigo’s death.

In an open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel sent out this week, HRW expressed concerns about the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Agreement.

It said that the Rwandan authorities not only failed to conduct a credible investigation into Mihigo’s death, but in this and other similar cases obstructed justice by targeting victims and witnesses.

The HRW letter said it oversaw several trials in which defendants said they were tortured to sign confessions after their arrest.

The Rwandan government refuses “to conduct an effective investigation into allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, or to prosecute alleged perpetrators”.

It adds: “In March 2022, we reported on the ongoing persecution of journalists and social media commentators, including the disappearance, arrest or threats against several high-profile critics, opposition figures and commentators who use social media or YouTube to speak out .”

Lewis Mudge, Director for Central Africa at HRWQ, said: “The death in custody of Kizito Mihigo and the authorities’ failure to bring him to justice marked a turning point for many Rwandans.

“Many of the creators currently in prison today were inspired by Kizito’s bravery. Despite fears of reprisals from the prison authorities, they continue to denounce their brutal treatment in prison.

“The UK and Commonwealth should urgently request access to visit her and press for her release.”

Mihigo was an extremely popular artist who had sung before the President and was presented with an award by First Lady Jeannette Kagame for establishing a foundation to promote peace and reconciliation.

However, in 2014 he released a song, “The Meaning of Death”, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The lyrics mention those “slaughtered in revenge killings” and were intended to challenge the official version of the genocide by acknowledging that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the ruling political party led by Mr Kagame, also committed brutal crimes.

Mihigo was arrested on charges of planning terrorist attacks. His music was banned and the following year he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to overthrow the government.

He was pardoned by Mr Kagame in 2018 but his freedom of movement was restricted and he was required to report regularly to the police.

He was arrested again in February 2020 on charges of trying to flee to Burundi. He was found dead in his cell within days, with Rwandan authorities saying he had hanged himself.

Shortly before his death, he told HRW that he was being “threatened with making false statements about political opponents” and that he wanted to flee the country.

The UK Home Office said: “Rwanda is a fundamentally safe country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers and we are confident that the agreement is fully compliant with all national and international laws.”

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