A popular Rwandan gospel musician who in 2015 was found guilty of conspiracy to murder or harm President Paul Kagame was found dead in a police cell in the capital, Kigali, in what authorities called a suicide.
Kizito Mihigo, 38, an ethnic Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, killed himself on Monday morning, a police statement said.
Described by many as Rwanda‘s biggest cultural icon and a devout Roman Catholic known for songs promoting healing and forgiveness, Mihigo had been pardoned in 2018.
But he was rearrested three days ago over what police said was a violation of the terms of his release by trying to leave the country without permission and attempting to bribe Rwandans who spotted him trying to cross into neighbouring Burundi.
The Rwanda Investigations Bureau tweeted on Thursday that the country’s security organs had handed over Mihigo, saying the charges against him included illegally crossing to Burundi, joining “terrorist” groups and corruption.
Police spokesperson John Bosco Kabera said he was visited by family members and his lawyer during his detention.
“Investigations have begun to ascertain why he committed suicide,” he said.
Mihigo is not the first figure to die in mysterious circumstances under police custody in Rwanda.
Last year, a former director-general in Kagame’s office was found dead in a military jail after being sentenced to 10 years for corruption.
“Too often, sensitive cases in Rwanda result in mysterious deaths or disappearances,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, according to The Associated Press news agency. He called for an investigation that would examine the possibility that Mihigo “could have been ill-treated or killed in custody”.
Mihigo was arrested in 2014 and sentenced the following year to 10 years in prison after he was found guilty of conspiracy to murder or harm Kagame and other top leaders. He was also convicted of complicity to overthrow the government and conspiracy to form alliances with groups to destabilise the country.
He pleaded guilty to all charges, leading the judge to say he was given a lenient sentence because he had made the court’s work easy.
Weeks before his arrest, Mihigo had released a song – Igisobanuro Cy’urupfu (The Meaning of Death) – in which he seemed to challenge the official narrative of the genocide. Some have speculated that it was the song that led to his arrest.