PEN International © 2017
Terms & Conditions | Privacy Statement

OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF INNOCENT BAHATI

Monday 7 February 2022 - 10:00am

Innocent Bahati - Photo Credit: Adrea Grieder

Burhan Sonmez, Ben Okri, Margaret Atwood, Gioconda Belli, J. M. Coetzee, Ma Thida and Salman Rushdie among hundreds of acclaimed writers, artists and poets urging Rwandan President Kagame to intervene in the case of disappeared poet Innocent Bahati.

Dear President Paul Kagame,

We, the undersigned writers, poets, and artists from Africa and around the world, would like to jointly express our grave concern about the life and whereabouts of Rwandan poet Innocent Bahati, who has been missing since 07 February 2021. Bahati is a well-known poet who, before disappearing, has published poetry on YouTube and Facebook and has regularly performed at poetry events in Rwanda. At the time of his disappearance, he was a teacher at the Green Hills Academy in Kigali.

We write in support of previous calls by PEN International, the world association of writers and other freedom of expression organizations, to urge you to intervene in the case of Bahati and in the interest of his right to life, liberty, and wellbeing.

We understand that Bahati was last seen at a hotel in Nyanza district, in the Southern Province of Rwanda, where he had reportedly gone to meet someone whom he had spoken to on the phone earlier. When Bahati failed to return to Kigali as expected, individuals close to him tried to reach him on his mobile phones without success. Bahati’s phones appeared to be switched off and have remained so ever since.

According to media accounts, on 9 February 2021 a report was made to the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) about the disappearance of Bahati. Soon after, a spokesperson of the RIB publicly stated that Bahati was not in the agency’s custody. He further said that an investigation was ongoing and that the RIB would not reveal any information at the time.

We are bringing this matter to your attention, with a plea for urgent action because, one year later, Bahati is still missing and his situation unknown. We note with concern that the Rwandan authorities are yet to disclose any progress or outcome of investigations on his case.

As writers, poets and artists, we have legitimate reasons to believe that Innocent Bahati’s disappearance is in relation to his poetry and critical expression on issues affecting Rwandan society. We are aware of reports that he similarly disappeared in 2017 after he had posted a critical comment on Facebook, only to reappear in police custody after several days. Although he was not charged for any offense, he was imprisoned without trial for three months and only freed after a court order.

Further, we have seen media reports attributed to a speech made on 21 March 2021 by the Rwandan Secretary of State in charge of culture Mr. Edouard Bamporiki, on the use of poetry, as follows:

“…one who has nothing to lose may cross the lines, and the one who has no guard will get off the right track. When poetry loses its way, it can mislead the public. It is for this reason that I ask you to forget the difficulties that Rwandan poetry community has known in recent times, but rather to do our part to advise and reprimand those amongst who stray from the right path...”

Coming shortly after the disappearance of Bahati in 2021, these chilling remarks by an official of your administration are hardly coincidental. They suggest a pattern of intolerance to free poetic expression by officials, and they legitimately raise suspicions that Bahati may have been disappeared in relation to his poetry. We believe that someone within the Rwandan administration knows about the whereabouts or fate of Bahati.

Rwanda’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, with sufficient safeguards against arbitrary use of state power to suppress this right. Rwanda is also obliged under International Human Rights law and standards, to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including artistic freedom.

Poetry is not a crime. The world awaits to hear the voice of Innocent Bahati, again.

We look forward to your positive intervention, Mr. President, in the interest of justice.

Signed on this day: 7 February 2022

Burhan Sonmez, President, PEN International

Adama Makasuba

Adisa Bašić

Áine Ní Ghlinn

Ajla Demiragić

Alessandra Trevisan

Alex Pearl

Allieu Kamara

Almir Imširević

Amanda Bell

Ana María Fuster Lavín

Andre Derval

Andrea Grieder

Andrea Lešić

Angye Gaona

Anna Heussaff

Anne Tannam

Antje Stehn

Antoine Spire

Arfang M.S. Camara

Ariel Zhu

Arya Rajam

Assan Njie

Ava-Lisa Sedgwick

Bampha Jaiteh

Ben Okri

Bernard Fournier

Bernard Gilbert

Bernard Odendaal

Bernadette Kaimokai

Binta Jaiteh

Bintou Waggeh

Brendan Lynch

Brid Fitzpatrick

Brigitte Gyr

Çağdaş Gökbel

Canisia Lubrin

Carlos Vásconez

Caroline Graham

Caroline Wood

Carolyn Meads

Cathal Póirtéir

Catherine Dunne

Catherine Pont-Humbert

Catrina Wessels

Cecile Oumhani

Celia de Fréine

Christopher Lin

Claire Varin

Clare O’Dea

Clarisa Palmer

Colette Klein

Collette Sell

Conor Kostick

Cung Thi Lan

Dan Midalia

Dang Nguyen

Danie Marais

Daniel Gorman

Daniel I. Pedreira

Daniele D'alia

Daniele Pantano

Danielle Thibault

Danny Morrison

Danson Kahyana

Daragh Fleming

Dave Duggan

David Ferré

Declan O’Rourke

Deirdre Hines

Dennis Haskell

Diana Menefy

Diane Alméras

Dibi Symington

Dominique Gaucher

Dr. Michael Gregory Stephens

Duong Vu

Ekaterina Turchaninova

Elena Poniatowska

Elif Shafak

Émile Martel

Enver Kazaz

Eric Lax

Esi Edugyan

Fabienne Leloup

Fakhri Saleh

Fatima Sillah

Félix Villeneuve

Ferida Duraković

Fintan Power

Fióna Bolger

Fiona Gartland

Fiona O’Rourke

Folu Agoi

Frances An

Francis Coffinet

Francis Combes

Frank Golden

Froukje Santing

Gabriel Rosenstock

Gabriel Seisdedos

Gamal El Dine Mona

Gaston Bellemare

Geert Mak

Geraldine Comiskey

Germán Rojas

Gianluca Costantini

Gioconda Belli

Gráinne Murphy

Grainne Tobin

Greg Dinner

Gwyneth Wynn Uí Ghaora

Haruna Kuyateh

Hassoum Ceesay

Homa Hoodfar

Hong Thuy

Hori Takeaki

Hugh Hazelton

Iman Humaydan

Isha Kaira

Ivan Šarčević

Izak de Vries

Izet Perviz

J.M. Coetzee

Jacinto Luca Pires

Jack Harte

Jacques Godbout

James Rebanks

Jan Beatty

Jasna Samic

Jean Le Boel

Jean Michel Devesa

Jean Noel Cordier

Jean Philippe Domecq

Jean-Louis Grosmaire

Jennifer Clement

Jeremy Mogford

Joachim Helfer

Job Degenaar

John Charles McAllister

John D Kelly

John Lattimore

John Liddy

John O’Brien

John O’Donnell,

John Waring

Jonathan Beck

Jonathan Franzen

José Luis Acevedo Daza

Jorge Montealegre

Judyth Hill

June Caldwell

June Considine

K. Satchidanandan

Karimatou Jallow

Kate Ennals

Kate Highman

Kate Thompson

Katherine Mezzacappa

Katie Donovan

Kätlin Kaldamaa

Kebba Ansu Manneh

Kevin Corcoran

Kevin Doyle

Konstantin Kedrov

Krishna Sen

Lamija Milisic

Lan Cung

Lana Bastašić

Lane Shipsey

Lauren O’Donovan

Laurence Paton

Le Phi O

Le Thi Nhi

Le Thi Y

Lenore Hart

Lesley Marshall

Lia Mills

Linda Gaboriau

Linda Hansen

Linda Maria Baros

Lindsay Sedgwick

Lissa Oliver

Liz McManus

Liz McSkeane

Louis Gauthier

Lucia Cupertino

Lucina Kathmann

Lydia Little

Ma Thida

Malick Diarra

Mama A Touray

Marc Bouchard

Marcella van der Kruk

Margaret Atwood

Margo Gorman

Maria del Pilar Clemente

Maria McManus

Mariadonata Villa

Mariama Njie

Marie Clark

Marie Laure Coulmin Koutsaftis

Marie McCartan

Marina Tarasova

Mark Wilson-Pierce

Mary Grehan

Maybelle Wallis

Mbemba Camara

Megan Wynne

Mia Gallagher

Michael Jordan

Michael Ondaatje

Mike Williams

Milagros Socorro

Minh Thuy

Miriam Calejja Shaw

Mohamed Sheriff

Monique Proulx

Moses Kainwo

Muhamed Dželilović

Musa S. Sheriff

Muspha Jarju

Nakisanze Segawa

Nathaniel A. Pearce

Natasha Remoundou

Nayrouz Qarmout

Nedžad Ibrahimović

Nell Regan

Niall Mac Coitir

Niamh MacCabe

Nina George

Nyima Sillah

Omar El Akkad

Omar Farouk

Other Press LLC

Orhan Pamuk

Otosirieze Obi-Young

Pádraig Hanratty

Padraig O’Morain

Paul Auster

Paula McGrath

Pedro Alejandro Olivares Torruella

Petr Obraztsov

Philippe Pujas

Philippe Sands

Piers Davies

Priscilla Robinson Wolf

Rae Marie Taylor

Rainny Ansumana

Ralf Nestmeyer

Réaltán Ní Leannáin

Regina Kammerer

Rev. Johanna Warren

Rex Marshall

Roberta Bacic

Romana Cacchioli

Rosalynn Comino

Ruth Borthwick

Saad Salloum

Saffiatou Fatty

Salman Rushdie

Sainabou Sambou

Samuel F. Pimenta

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Santana

Sandra Symons

Sarah Oldfield

Sarah Thilykou

Sean Horgan

Selma Raljević

Senada Kreso

Sergey Belorusets

Shady Lewis

Shauna Gilligan

Sheila Barrett

Simon Robinson

Siobhán Daffy

Siobhán Hegarty

Siri Hustvedt

Sofi Oksanen

Sophia Hillan

SP McArdle

Stefania Gualberti

Sylvestre Clancier

Tanja Tuma

Tatiana Ponomaryova

Tenneh Kabba

Thai Lan

Theresa Amui

Thierry Mesny

Tina Callaghan

Tony Cohan

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Vawn Corrigan

Víctor Muñoz

Viviana Fiorentino

Vonne van der Meer

Water Davies

Wladimir Sergijenko

Yann Martel

Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Yorn Young

Yunus Saliu

Yuri Ryabinin


For further information, please contact Sabrina Tucci, Communications and Campaigns Manager: Sabrina.Tucci@pen-international.org | Twitter: @pen_int | Facebook: @peninternational | www.pen-international.org