In 2014, Rwandans were shocked by the news that Kizito Mihigo had been arrested, and one of the charges he was facing was plotting to assassinate President Paul Kagame.
Mr Mihigo, a gospel musician, performed at national events, and his music, lyrics heavy on love, forgiveness, unity and faith, was played regularly during the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Even more shocking was the police announcement this week that Mr Mihigo had committed suicide in a cell on Monday, shortly after he had been rearrested as he attempted to flee the country.
International human rights watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into his death. But Rwanda has ruled out an external inquiry into the death.
Spokesperson of the Rwanda Investigative Bureau Marie Michelle Umuhoza told The EastAfrican: “We have institutions that are competent and qualified to conduct investigations in any case. What those watchdogs are saying is simply their wishes but we have competent and independent organs that can do that.”
Following his death, Mr Mihigo’s family said that he was planning a gospel concert to revive his music career. He had released one song after prison titled Amahoro Y’Imana, (the peace of God), which he posted on Twitter last November.
“He had big dreams of a concert in Kigali and that consumed his time after prison,” a relative told The EastAfrican.
Controversy surrounds Mr Mihigo’s sudden death, with police saying that he had shown signs of depression before taking his own life, including refusing to talk to his family and lawyers.
But his family disputes this.
Mr Mihigo was considered a child of one of Rwanda’s iconic musicians, Cecile Kayirebwa, who lives in Belgium.
“I woke up with tears of a mother who has lost a child. I am very hurt, for a young man like Mihigo to commit suicide, it shows he was in a lot of pain,” Ms Kayirebwa told Voice of America on Tuesday.
“He used to visit me in my home in Belgium, he was like a child to me. He had a voice like my father’s. It was such a good voice that he did not even need a microphone. He was as old as my youngest child. I do not wish such sadness to any young person to the point of taking their own lives,” she said.
A night vigil at his family home in Kanombe, Kigali, was attended by relatives and friends. Fellow musicians declined to comment on Mr Mihigo’s death when we approached them, as did the Catholic Church where he spent several years serving as a choir member.
Mr Mihigo’s last social media post — both on Facebook and Twitter — was made on February 12. It was a picture of him and a boy identified as Arnaud, from a music school he ran for children.
“Arnaud has finished the first session of our musical training. Courageous, he can go far,” the post reads.
Mr Mihigo’s troubles began shortly after he released the song Igisobanuro Cy’urupfu (the meaning of death), about genocide, in March 2014. Critics accused him of promoting the “double genocide” ideology, even though he was a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
A week after his arrest in April 2014, police said his song had nothing to do with his incarceration. Instead, they said he was a suspect in serious crimes including a plot to assassinate President Kagame, terrorism, and collaborating with rebel groups.
In February 2015, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released from prison on a presidential pardon in September 2018. The Rwanda Broadcasting Agency banned the airing of his songs both on TV and radio.