In secret trial, Rwandan court simply fines driver of car that killed journalist
After the driver of the car that killed a Rwandan news website editor was sentenced to nothing more than a fine in a secret trial, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the opaque judicial procedure used in this case, which has failed to shed light on many of the circumstances surrounding this journalist’s suspicious death.
The driver of the car that hit the motorcyle being ridden by The Chronicles editor John Williams Ntwali on 18 January was tried behind closed doors – an unusual procedure for a road accident – and was sentenced to pay a fine of 1 million Rwandan francs (860 euros) on a charge “involuntary manslaughter,” a court in Kigali’s Kagarama district announced this week. The judge said the driver, Moise Emmanuel Bagirishya, “pleaded guilty and apologised for the accident.”
The verdict and sentence were based on an investigation whose findings were never made public and which clearly assumed that Ntwali’s death was simply the result of a road accident, without exploring other hypotheses, although Ntwali had believed that his life was in danger and had wanted to flee the country, and although he had survived a similar “accident” in 2012 after receiving threats.
Is 860 euros the price for killing a journalist in Rwanda ? Many aspects of John Williams Ntwali’s death are still unclear. Justice cannot be rendered until the truth about the exact circumstances of his death has been established. And that cannot be done without an in-depth, independent and transparent investigation, which the Rwanda authorities must still carry out.
Well known for his investigative reporting on poor governance and human rights violations in Rwanda, Ntwali had been harassed by the authorities for more than ten years and had repeatedly been detained arbitrarily and threatened. One of his news sites, Ireme News, had also been subjected to cyber-attacks.
His death triggered an outcry among press freedom defenders. RSF joined a coalition of civil society organisations and journalists’ associations in calling on the Rwandan authorities to guarantee an independent investigation.