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URGENTLY ACT TO ENSURE JUSTICE FOR INNOCENT BAHATI
We, the undersigned Africa PEN Centres reiterate earlier calls by PEN International for the Rwandan authorities to fully investigate, and formally publish findings on the 7 February 2021 mysterious disappearance of Rwandan poet, Innocent Bahati.
We note with concern the pattern of casual commentary by officials of the Rwandan government about the disappearance of Bahati since the time it was first reported on 9 February 2021; unsubstantiated claims about his whereabouts and empty promises that findings of allegedly ongoing investigations would be made public. Specifically, after the 7 February 2022 open letter to your office by more than 300 writers from around the world, the spokesperson of the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RBI) has been quoted across media platforms promising that findings would be released ‘soon’.
We suspect that the Rwandan authorities might be responsible for the disappearance of Bahati as retaliation for his critical views, which he creatively and non-violently expressed using poetry. We are aware of credible reports that in 2017, Bahati was similarly disappeared before he was secretly brought to a police station and imprisoned for three months without trial.
We write to express our fear that Bahati’s fate might be similar to hundreds of other Rwandans who are believed to be victims of enforced disappearances, many of them for simply and non-violently expressing divergent views on public interest issues or criticizing government policy. Some of these cases are under investigation by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID).
We write to you to express our rejection of the off-hand comments by officials of your government whenever calls are made for a credible resolution of Bahati’s disappearance. We also decry attempts by officials of your government to invalidate Bahati’s well known and celebrated profile as a poet and what appears from media reports to be efforts to negatively brand, discredit and criminalize him – all as a foundation to justify his probable enforced disappearance and invalidate demands for justice and accountability on his behalf.
The Rwandan government must fulfil its obligations under national and international human rights law by acting lawfully and with integrity to get to the bottom of Bahati’s suspicious disappearance and his whereabouts or fate.
Through this letter, we place before you a fresh call for your office to directly intervene and ensure justice for Innocent Bahati through a credible, impartial, and conclusive investigation.
Should Bahati be detained incommunicado for whatever reason, we urge your office to order that he is immediately brought and charged before open court in a fair trial. We further urge that his rights to life and freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment are guaranteed and protected.
Bahati’s family, friends, fans, and the community of writers, poets, musicians, and artists in Africa and around the world want to know where Bahati is; why he is being kept away from them; or his fate.
We look forward to your positive and helpful action to ensure justice for Innocent Bahati.
Signed on this 26th day of April 2022 by: