Ntwali’s death is a huge loss for Rwanda’s challenging media landscape

Rwandan journalist John Williams Ntwali – who many believed was the last remaining independent journalist in the country – died last week. He was apparently killed in a road accident in the country’s capital, Kigali, in the early hours of 18 January 2023. He was 43 years old, and leaves behind a wife and child.

It has been reported that a speeding vehicle crashed into the motorcycle he was riding as a passenger. Police spokesman John Bosco Cabera told Reuters that Ntwali was the sole fatality.

Ntwali, who was a leading investigative journalist and editor of the Rwandan-based news publication The Chronicles, was one of the few journalists who was openly critical of Paul Kagame, who became president of Rwanda in 2000. Several journalists and commentators are currently imprisoned under Kagame’s regime.

Ntwali was regularly threatened as a journalist exposing human rights abuses in Rwanda.

“I’m focused on justice, human rights, and advocacy. I know those three areas are risky here in Rwanda, but I’m committed to [them],” he told Al Jazeera. He also spoke about how death threats were common as part of his work.

There were widespread tributes to Ntwali’s death after it was announced.

The Rwanda Journalists Association said: “We are saddened by the death of journalist John Williams Ntwali this week in a road accident. Our condolences go out to his family, the wider media community and friends and relatives. May God rest in peace.”

MP and president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Frank Habineza, wrote: “It is with great sadness that we share the tragic news of the death of journalist John Williams, who died in an accident. We are patient with his family. God bless you. Our sincere condolences. May his soul rest in eternal glory.”

As the authorities have yet to produce any reports or evidence from Ntwali’s fatal accident, Lewis Mudge, Central African Director at Human Rights Watch, wrote that he not only dared to report about political repression but that “he joins a long list of people who have challenged the government and died in suspicious circumstances.”

The Human Rights Foundation said that his death is considered suspicious as he was in “the regime’s crosshairs for his journalistic work.”

There have also been calls for an independent enquiry into Ntwali’s death, with Ntwali’s family and friends requesting an independent international investigation. Angela Quintal, Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Ntwali will be mourned and also called for “a transparent, comprehensive, and credible accounting of the circumstances that led to his death.” Index join in these calls for accountability.

Ntwali’s funeral was held in the Gacurabwenge sector of the Kamonyi district, Rwanda, on 22 January 2023.

Rwanda was ranked 136 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index. According to the organisation, media owners must pledge allegiance to the government, and methods such as espionage, surveillance, arrest and forced disappearance is used in the county to prevent journalists from working freely. It also says that arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists have increased in recent years.

Ntwali’s death comes one year ahead of Rwanda going to the polls. Last summer Kagame said that he planned to run again in 2024, seeking his fourth term in office.

“I would consider running for another 20 years. I have no problem with that. Elections are about people choosing,” he told France 24. In 2017, Kagame reportedly won 99% of the vote, leading to cries of foul-play. Whether Ntwali’s death was suspicious or not, his death leaves a huge hole in Rwanda’s media landscape. Who is now left to speak out against Kagame?

Contents – The beautiful game? Qatar, football and freedom

The autumn issue of Index takes as its central theme the FIFA World Cup that will take place in Qatar in November and December 2022.

A country where human rights are constantly under threat, Qatar is under the spotlight and many are calling for a boycott of the tournament.

Index spoke to journalists, human rights activists and philosophers for the latest issue to understand their view on the tangled relationship between football and human rights. Is football really the beautiful game?


The Qatar conundrum, by Jemimah Steinfeld: The World Cup is throwing up questions.

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in the world of freedom of expression, with internet shutdowns and Salman Rushdie’s attack in the spotlight. Plus George M Johnson on being banned.


An unholy war on speech, by Sarah Myers: A woman sits on death row in Pakistan. Her crime? Saying she was a prophet.

Perfecting the art of oppression, by Martha Otwinowski: Poland’s art scene is the latest victim of nasty politics.

Poland’s redemption songs, by Martin Bright: In anti-apartheid solidarity, reggae rode with revolution in Europe.

Fighting back against vendetta politics, by Hanan Zaffar and Hamaad Habibullah: In India, tackling fake news can land you in a cell.

The mafia state that is putty in Putin’s hands, by Mark Seacombe: The truth behind the spread of pro-Russian propaganda in Bulgaria.

Bodies of evidence, by Sarah Sands: A new frontier of journalism with echoes of a crime scene investigator.

Chasing after rights, by Ben Rogers: The activist on being followed by Chinese police.

The double closet, by Flo Marks: Exploring the rampant biphobia that pushes many to silence their sexuality.

Is there a (real) doctor in the house? By John Lloyd: One journalist uncovers the secret of Romania’s doctored doctorates.

The mice hear the words of the night, by Jihyun Park: A schooling in free expression, where the classroom is North Korea.

The most dangerous man in Guantanamo, by Katie Dancey-Downs: After years in Guantanamo, a journalist dedicates himself to protecting others.

America’s coolest members club, by Olivia Sklenka: Meet the people fighting against the surge in book bans.

Special report: The beautiful game?

Victim of its own success? By Simon Barnes: Blame the populists, not the game.

Stadiums built on suffering, by Abdullah Al-Maliki: Underneath the suds of Qatar’s sportswashing, fear and terror remain.

Football’s leaving home, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Khalida Popal put women on the pitch in Afghanistan, before leading their evacuation.

Exposing Saudi’s nasty tactics, by Adam Crafton: A sports journalist is forced into defence after tackling Saudi Arabia’s homophobia.

It’s foul play in Kashmir, by Bilal Ahmad Pandow: Protest and politically motivated matches are entwined in Kashmir’s football history.

How ‘industrial football’ was used to silence protests, by Kaya Genç: Political football: how to bend it like Erdoğan.

Xi’s real China dream, by Jonathan Sullivan: While freedoms are squeezed, China’s leader has a World Cup-sized dream.

Tackling Israel’s thorny politics, by Daniella Peled: Can Palestinians de-facto national team carve out a space for free expression?

The stench of white elephants, by Jamil Chade: Brazil’s World Cup swung open Pandora’s Box.

The real game is politics, by Issa Sikiti da Silva: Is politics welcome on the pitch in Kenya?


Refereeing rights, by Julian Baggini: Why we shouldn’t expect footballers to hand out human rights red cards.

The other half, by Permi Jhooti: The real-life inspiration behind Bend it like Beckham holds up a mirror to her experience.

We don’t like it – no one cares, by Mark Glanville: English football has moved away from listening to its fans argues this Millwall supporter.

Much ado about critics, by Lyn Gardner: A theatre objects to an offensive Legally Blonde review.

On reputation laundering, by Ruth Smeeth: Beware those who want to control their own narrative.


The soul of Sudan, by Stella Gaitano and Katie Dancey-Downs: What does it mean for deep-running connections when you’re forced to leave? Censored writer Stella Gaitano introduces a new translation of her work.

Moving the goalposts, by Kaya Genç and Guilherme Osinski: Football and politics are a match made in Turkey. Kaya Genç fictionalises an unforgettable game.

Away from the satanic, by Malise Ruthven: A leading expert on Salman Rushdie writes about an emerging liberalism in Islamic discourse.

Fighting tyranny with poetry: Myanmar’s silenced voices


People protest in Myanmar against the military coup in 2021. Photo: Htin Linn Aye

The last time a political activist was hanged in Myanmar was in 1976, when the ethnic Chin student Salai Tin Maung Oo, 25, was executed for sedition. I was hoping against hope that the junta was bluffing when it announced in early June 2022 that it would go ahead with the execution of four political prisoners on death row, Phyo Zeyar Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

I knew too well what the regime was capable of. Since the February 2021 coup, daily atrocities by security forces, extrajudicial killings and tortures to death of hundreds of civilians are well documented. The lives of two of my poet friends in their prime, K Za Win and Khet Thi, were cut short by the regime in March 2021 and May 2021 respectively for their leading role in the anti-coup protests.

Zeyar Thaw and Min Yu (AKA Jimmy) are big names in Myanmar. Jimmy belonged to the 1988 protest movement. He spent a total of 21 of his 53 years of life behind bars as a prisoner of conscience. Zeyar Thaw belonged to a younger generation, politicised by the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a protest led by the Myanmar monks. Myo Aung and Thura Zaw are likely to be ‘the 2021 generation.’

The original Burmese title of my poem is The Rope. I translated it into English and gratefully accepted an editorial suggestion that The Rope be retitled On the Ropes. Whatever happened to the sacrifice of all the activists since Tin Maung Oo, not to mention many nameless martyrs before and after him?

Wherever we are, we earthlings may be on the ropes against tyranny of all sorts — from dictatorships in the East and blatant lies by elected politicians in the West to ubiquitous corporate greed and hypocrisy. Because of this failure in leadership and our lack of common sense as a common species, we may as well be on the ropes against the biggest blow of our times, the climate crisis.

On the Ropes

In all manners of capital punishment
hanging is
the most hideous.

To ancient Greeks
the rope takes away more than life.
It takes away decency
even in death.

Had the Romans hanged Jesus
—instead of nailing him on a crucifix—
the Christian church wouldn’t
have had much impact.

Would you hang around
your neck an icon of a broken-neck Jesus,
hanging by the neck
on a noose?

Be it short drop, pole method,
standard, or long drop,
the hanged is condemned
to indignity.

Once the neck snaps midair
the body shits and pisses itself,
the eyes bulge,
the tongue sticks out of the mouth,
if not stuck between the lips,
bloodied and bitten.

The Klan loves to lynch their victims.
Only racist hatred justifies the rope.

Hanging cannot be accomplished
without gravity.

This makes the innocent Gaia complicit
in our human crime—

in its ferity and finality.

A version of this poem was circulated in SUSPECT newsletter on 16 June 2022.

Hungary elections 2022: What does another Orban term mean for freedoms?

LGBTQI rights. Gender equality. Media freedom. The fate of liberties in Hungary hang in the balance as the nation heads to the polls on Sunday. With a falling currency, a mismanaged response to the pandemic still fresh to mind and a stronger opposition under United For Hungary – a coalition of six parties spanning the political spectrum – the election campaign has been the closest in years. But the war in Ukraine, right on Hungary’s border, has changed its course in unexpected ways. Below we’ve picked the most important things to consider when it comes to the April 2022 elections.

Basic rights could worsen

Since his election in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has whittled away fundamental rights in the country to the extent that Hungarian activist Dora Papp told Index in 2019 free expression had no more space “to worsen”.

Orban’s main targets have been people who identify as LGBTQI. Last year, amid global outcry, he passed a law that bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change. Seeking approval for this legislation, Hungary is holding a referendum on sexual orientation workshops in schools this Sunday alongside the parliamentary elections.

Orban also takes aim at the nation’s Roma and immigrants, and has revived old anti-Semitic tropes in his attacks on George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist who Orban claims is plotting to flood the country with migrants (an accusation Soros firmly denies).

As for half of the population, Orban’s macho-style leadership manifests in rhetoric on women that is dismissive, insulting and focuses on traditional roles. Asked in 2015 why there were no women in his cabinet, he replied that few women could deal with the stress of politics. That’s just one example. The list goes on.

His populist politics have seeped into every democratic institution and effectively dismantled them. The constitution, the judiciary and municipal councils have all been reorganised to serve the interests of Orban. Education, both higher and lower, has seen huge levels of interference. Progressive teachers and classes have been removed. Even the Billy Elliot musical was cancelled after Orban called the show a propaganda tool for homosexuality.

But the media can’t freely report much of this

In response to claims of media-freedom erosion, the Hungarian government likes to point out that there are no journalists in jail in Hungary, nor have any been murdered on Orban’s watch. But as we know only too well there are many ways to cook an egg. Through gaining control of public media, concentrating private media in the hands of Orban allies and creating a hostile environment for the remaining independent media (think misinformation laws and constant insults), the attacks come from every other angle. Orban has even been accused of using Pegasus, the invasive spyware behind the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, to target investigative journalists.

It’s little wonder then that in 2021 Reporters Without Borders labelled Orban a “press freedom predator”, the only one to make the list from the EU.

As election day approaches the attacks continue. In February, for example, pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet said it had obtained recordings showing that NGOs linked to Soros were “manipulating” international press coverage of Hungary, a claim instantly rejected by civil society groups.

Ukraine War has shifted the narrative, for better and worse

Given Orban’s track-record on rights, it comes as no surprise that he’s the closest EU ally of Vladimir Putin. This wasn’t a great look before 24 February and it’s even less so today, as the opposition are keen to highlight. They are pushing Orban hard on his neutral stance, which has seen him simultaneously open Hungary’s borders to Ukrainian refugees and oppose sanctions and the sending of weapons.

But Orban is playing his hand well. Fears of becoming embroiled in the war appear to be stronger in Hungary than anger at Putin’s aggression, many analysts says. Orban is claiming a vote for him is a vote for stability and neutrality, while a vote for the opposition is a vote for war. He’s even tried to cast his February visit to Moscow as a “peace mission”.

And though he has condemned the invasion, he has yet to say anything bad about Putin himself. Worse still, Hungarian media is blasting out Russian propaganda. Pundits, TV stations and print outlets are pushing out lines like the war was caused by NATO’s aggressive acts toward Russia, Russian troops have occupied Ukraine’s nuclear plants to protect them and the Ukrainian government is full of Nazis.

 Anything else?

Yes. Orban met with a coalition of Europe’s far-right in Spain at the start of the year. They discussed the possibility of a Europe-wide alliance. What that looks like now in a post-Ukraine world is hard to tell. We’d rather not see.

Then there’s the fact that Serbia also goes to the polls Sunday. Like Orban, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), led by president Aleksandar Vučić, has been unnerved by growing opposition. Also like Orban, they’re close to Putin and using the Ukraine war to their advantage – reminding people of the 1999 Kosovo war when NATO launched a three-month air strike. Orban and Vučić have developed close ties and will no doubt be buoyed up by each other’s victories should that happen on Sunday.

So will the Hungary elections be free and fair?

If the 2018 elections are anything to go by, they will be “free but not fair”, the conclusion of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who partially monitored the 2018 election process. That’s the optimistic take. Others are fearful they will be neither free nor fair, so much so that a grassroots civic initiative called 20K22 has recruited more than 20,000 ballot counters – two for each of Hungary’s voting precincts – to be stationed at polling centres on election day with the aim of stopping any voting irregularities.

News from yesterday isn’t confidence-boosting either. Hungarian election officials reported a suspected case of voter fraud to the police. Bags full of completed ballots were found at a rubbish dump in north-western Romania, home to a large Hungarian minority who have the right to vote in Hungary’s elections. Images and videos shared by the opposition featured partially burnt ballots marked to support them. As of writing, no details have been provided of the actual perpetrators and their motives, and Orban has been quick to accuse the opposition of being behind the incident. Either way, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.