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Gospel Singer Kizito Mihigo: Rwandan Apostle Of Reconciliation Found Dead In Police Cell

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Popular Rwandan Gospel musician Kizito Mihigo, (also known as the Apostle of Reconciliation), 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.

However, circumstances surrounding his death, under police custody in Rwanda looks mysterious.

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.

Kizito Mihigo was initially embraced by the government. He even helped composed the national anthem. His concerts drew tens of thousands of fans, from all walks of life, who appreciated his message offering hope for the future.

But his journey from superstar to pariah was swift.

In 1994, at the age of 12, he lost his father, as well as other relatives, in the Rwandan genocide, in which about 800,000 people, ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were murdered by Hutu extremists.

Profoundly affected by what had happened, Kizito, an ethnic Tutsi, made reconciliation a central message of his work once he became a performer.

He fled to neighbouring Burundi in the wake of the genocide and was reunited with surviving members of his family.

They returned home once the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the mainly Tutsi rebel movement led by the current President Paul Kagame, had taken power.

He began his performing career in Europe, but he never forgot where he was from and he went home in 2011. He was feted by the authorities and often invited to sing at official functions in front of the president.

Mihigo’s talent was recognised by President Kagame who awarded him a scholarship to study at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris.

Kizito was also awarded a prize by the first lady, Jeannette Kagame, for establishing a foundation to promote peace and reconciliation.

By 2013, the government was partly funding the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation, which saw him tour schools and prisons to spread his message.

But Kizito’s fortunes changed in 2014 after he released The Meaning of Death.

Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the genocide, many saw the song as challenging the officially accepted version of what happened – that only Tutsis were killed.

On 7 April 2014 Kizito was reported missing and days later the police paraded him in front of the media. He was accused of plotting terrorist attacks and working with opposition movements with the aim of toppling the Rwandan government.

His music was then banned on all local radio and television stations.

In 2015 he was sentenced to 10 years for planning to kill the president and conspiring against the government. At his trial, the prosecution produced text messages that showed him plotting the assassination.

He confessed to the charges, but later said he was coerced into pleading guilty. He was convinced that it was that song that got him into trouble.

“I was told that I had to plead guilty. They said if I didn’t plead guilty, they would kill me,” he told human rights activist Ruhumuza Mbonyumutwa on the phone from prison in 2018. The audio from the interview has just been released.

He was freed in September 2018, after being pardoned by the president, along with 2,000 other prisoners.

On 13 February, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) announced that he was in custody after he was arrested for trying to cross into Burundi illegally.

Four days later, he was found dead in a cell, after hanging himself, according to an RIB investigation.

A number of human rights organisations and foreign-based Rwandan activists have cast doubt on the official version.

 

Source: BBC

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