IPI, the global network of press freedom, calls for a thorough and independent investigation into the death of Rwandan journalist John Williams Ntwali, a well-known critic of the Rwandan government who was killed in what authorities have claimed was a traffic accident.

Williams Ntwali, an editor of the privately owned newspaper The Chronicles and who also ran the YouTube channel Pax TV – IREME New, was reported dead two days after responding to a police call for interrogation. He reported on issues of human rights abuses in Rwanda, including arrests of opposition figures, deaths of critics, and forced evictions and advocacy.

According to reports, Williams Ntwali went to the police criminal investigation department on Monday, January 16, 2023, in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. On Wednesday, January 18, the police informed the journalist’s newspaper and family that he had died in a motorbike accident.

The official version of Williams Ntwali’s death has been met with huge skepticism by human rights defenders in Rwanda, which has been accused of targeting critics and political dissidents as well as journalists. For instance, three journalists with Iwacu TV were arrested in October 2018 and detained for four years over allegations of tarnishing the country’s image. A political opponent, Théophile Ntirutwa, who survived an assassination attempt, was sentenced in December 2022, sentenced to seven years for “spreading false information”. Six other political dissidents were jailed up to twelve years in prison in 2020. The government has also been accused of targeting  Rwandan dissidents abroad, including in South Africa and Mozambique.

Though Rwanda is globally touted for its economic development and political stability, critics and dissidents are not tolerated. Under the rule of President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has a highly murky record on fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and press freedom.

“IPI extends our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of John Williams Ntwali. His death is a serious blow to independent journalism in Rwanda”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said.

“There are serious doubts about the official version of John Williams Ntwali’s death, which reflects the serious threats and pressure that government critics in Rwanda face. IPI joins international calls for an investigation into the circumstances of his death, which must be thorough, transparent, and independent in order to be considered credible.”