Popular Rwandan gospel singer, Kizito Mihigo, has been found dead in a police cell.
The singer, who was found guilty in 2015 of conspiracy to murder and harm President Paul Kagame, was found dead in a cell in Kigali, the authorities said.
His death has been met with skepticism in a country known for targeting people critical of the government and its policies.
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Mihigo, an ethnic Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis were arrested, was pardoned in 2018.
Described by many as Rwanda’s biggest cultural figure, he was rearrested last week. Police said the singer, a devout Catholic known for songs promoting healing and forgiveness, had been trying to flee to neighboring Burundi to join groups fighting the Rwandan government.
“He has been in a cell for three days as police investigated why he was crossing the border illegally and cases of bribery,” John Bosco Kabera, a police spokesman, said.
Police said Mihigo had been allowed to meet family members and his lawyer. It was not immediately known whether he had been in a solitary cell. A relative declined to comment. The news of Mihigo’s death was met with disbelief, Guardian Reports.
Rwanda’s Investigation 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.
On 13/2/2020, Security organs handed over to #RIB Kizito Mihigo after being arrested in Nyaruguru District.
Mihigo’s criminal charges include attempt to illegally cross to Burundi, joining terrorist groups and corruption.
— Rwanda Investigation Bureau (@RIB_Rw) February 14, 2020
Police spokesman 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.
Meanwhile, human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has expressed shock over the case, calling for thorough investigations.
AI’s Director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said: “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo’s death. The Rwandan authorities have stated that he committed suicide. They must immediately launch an independent, impartial and thorough investigation to determine the cause of death – including whether it was natural or accidental, or a case of suicide or homicide.
“There must be no whitewash. The investigation should establish all the facts, including the possible involvement of others and whether prison practices and conditions caused or contributed to Kizito Mihigo’s death.”