Popular Rwandan gospel singer, Kizito Mihigo, 38, who was found guilty in 2015 of plotting to kill Rwandan President Paul Kagame, has reportedly committed suicide in his police cell, authorities confirmed on Monday.
The devout Catholic was arrested in 2014 and sentenced in 2015 after he was convicted of complicity to overthrow the government and conspiracy to form alliances with groups to destabilise the country.
He was then sentenced to 10 years in prison for offences including the formation of a criminal gang, conspiracy to murder, and conspiracy against the established government or the president. However, in 2018, he was granted a presidential pardon by Kagame.
Last week, he was rearrested 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.
According to a Police statement released by spokesperson John Bosco Kabera “He had been in a police cell for three days as police investigated why he was crossing the border illegally and cases of bribery.”
Kabera added that Mihigo was visited by family members and his lawyer during his detention. “Investigations have begun to ascertain why he committed suicide,” Kabera said.
Mihigo has been described by many as Rwanda’s biggest cultural icon and a devout Roman Catholic known for songs promoting healing and forgiveness. News of his death has been met with disbelief. “Mihigo was somebody who is down to earth and loved by many. News about his death is a shock to the country,” fan William Murinzi said.
Mihigo is not the first public 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”.
Weeks before his arrest, Mihigo had released a song titled 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. Rwandan authorities had said at the time charges had nothing to do with the lyrics of the song.