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?

A letter to Aung San Suu Kyi: Overturn conviction, free Reuters journalists

At the recent World Economic Conference in Hanoi, Viet Nam, Aung San Suu Kyi defended the 3 September conviction and sentencing of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and invited anyone who believes in the rule of law to point out why the judgment was problematic. 52 IFEX members and other groups have taken her up on this invitation.

Aung San Suu Kyi
State Counselor

Your Excellency,

Recently, at the World Economic Conference in Hanoi, Viet Nam, you defended the September 3 conviction and sentencing of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for violating the Official Secrets Act, and invited anyone who believes in the rule of law to point out why the judgment was problematic. As a concerned group of more than 50 human rights and free expression organizations from around the world, we would like to take this opportunity to respond to your invitation and to call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s immediate and unconditional release.

First and foremost, contrary to your comments, the case is a clear attempt to restrict freedom of expression and independent journalism in Myanmar. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12, 2017, in the course of doing their job as professional journalists: investigating military operations in northern Rakhine State. Specifically, the two men were investigating a massacre that took place in the village of Inn Din, during which 10 Rohingya men and boys were summarily executed by the security forces—a crime which the military later admitted to. This investigation—which came at a time when the Myanmar military and the civilian-led government rejected mounting reports of human rights violations in northern Rakhine State—was clearly in the public interest, and still is.

The law that was then used to prosecute them—the colonial-era Official Secrets Act—is one of a number of repressive laws that have been used to prosecute journalists and stymie media freedom. The Act is broadly worded, and grants wide powers to the government to determine what classifies as a “secret”—indeed, the entire Act goes well beyond the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression which are permitted under international human rights law on the grounds of national security.

Even within the terms of the Act itself, for a conviction under Section 3.1 (c), evidence should demonstrate that the accused had in their possession secret documents that “might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.” However, evidence and testimony presented during the pre-trial and trial hearings failed to demonstrate this was the case and instead established the following facts:

• The documents Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are accused of possessing are not secret, but contain information already in the public domain;
• There is no evidence of intent to turn documents over to an enemy or to harm the country;
• Police testimony regarding the circumstances of their arrest was contradictory;
• Moreover, a police whistleblower credibly testified that the two journalists had been framed: namely, that police were ordered by their superiors to invite Wa Lone to a meeting so he could be handed documents and then immediately arrested;
• Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were subject to ill-treatment after their initial arrest, including incommunicado detention for two weeks, hooding, and sleep deprivation.

In summary, we believe that that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Their trial, which was already manifestly unfair, was made more so by the repeated failure to uphold key tenets of the rule of law and to build a convincing evidence-based case against these journalists.

We therefore call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these two men, and reject the convictions against them. We further urge your government to work towards the swift review and amendment of all laws that can be used to unlawfully restrict the right to freedom of expression, so as to bring them into line with international human rights law and standards.

Yours respectfully,

PEN America
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) 
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) 
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Freedom Forum
Fundamedios – Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Globe International Center
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Independent Journalism Center (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI) 
Mediacentar Sarajevo 
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Mizzima News
Norwegian PEN
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN Canada
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
South East Europe Media Organisation 
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Amnesty International
Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
Burma Campaign UK
Civil Rights Defenders
English PEN
Equality Myanmar
Free Expression Myanmar
Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network
Norwegian Myanmar Committee
PEN Myanmar
Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU)
The Swedish Burma Committee

Six sites blocked by China’s Great Firewall


The New York Times is blocked in China.

Last month, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled the country’s a new 14-month campaign to tighten control over the internet. The Chinese government is specifically concerned about virtual private networks, which punch holes through the country’s so-called “Great Firewall”. Without the VPNs, China’s internet users are unable to browse some of the world’s largest web sites. So the campaign made big news around the world.

But Charlie Smith of the 2016 Index on Censorship Digial Activism Award-winning GreatFire, an anonymous collective fighting Chinese internet censorship, told us that the VPN campaign is “actually kind of being mis-reported by the press, in general. It’s not as big a deal as it is being made out to be. We’d make a lot of noise if it was a big deal.”

Here are just six sites that are regularly blocked by China’s Great Firewall:

  1. YouTube

YouTube was first blocked in March of 2008 during riots in Tibet and has been blocked several times since, including on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in 2014. At the time of the Tibetan riots, much of China’s population speculated that the YouTube ban was an attempt by the government to filter access to footage that a Tibetan exile group had released

  1. Instagram

It’s typical for China’s internet censors to go into overdrive during politically sensitive events and/or time periods, which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that Instagram was blocked in 2014 after pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. To some, the block on Instagram during the protests exposed Beijing’s fears that people in the mainland might be inspired by the events taking place in Hong Kong. While some parts of the social media site may be restored, the site is still listed as 92 percent blocked.  

  1. The New York Times

In late December 2016, the Chinese government made waves by ordering Apple to remove their New York Times app from the Chinese digital app store. According to the newspaper, the app had been removed on 23 December under regulations prohibiting all apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order. The New York Times website as a whole has been blocked since 2012 in China, after the newspaper published an article regarding the wealth of former prime minister Wen Jiabao and his family. People turned to the NYT app after the blockage in order to maintain access to the the paper’s stories. Now that the app is blocked as well, the New York Times is only available to those who had downloaded the app before its removal from the store.

  1. Bloomberg

In June of 2012, the popular business and financial information website published a story regarding the multimillion dollar wealth of Vice President Xi Jinping and his extended family. Considering this story too invasive, the Chinese government blocked Bloomberg and has yet to reopen the site to the public. At the time, the Chinese government was going through a period of transition, as power shifted from then President Hu Jintao to Jinping. 

  1. Twitter

Censors in China blocked access to Twitter in June of 2009 in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. The move seems to reflect the government’s anxiety when it comes to the anniversary and the sensitive memories that come with it. The blocking of Twitter has also allowed for the rise of the Chinese app Weibo, a censored Twitter clone, which quickly became one of China’s most popular.

  1. Reuters

One of the more recent bans by the Chinese government came in the form of the international news agency Reuters. In March 2015, the organisation announced that both its English and Chinese sites were no longer reachable in the country . China has blocked media outlets like Reuters in the past, but these moves have always come after the release of a controversial story. In the case Reuters, the ban seemed to have come out of nowhere, with the reason behind the blockage still unclear.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1487260644692-d841ab7e-8ed3-4″ taxonomies=”85″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cuba: Reuters journalist accused of collaborating with CIA

Cuba has accused a Reuters journalist of collaborating with a US diplomat thought to be a CIA agent. The allegation was made by Cuban state television through a programme “dedicated to uncovering supposed plots against Cuba”.

Dissident Raul Capote claims that he witnessed a meeting between then Reuters bureau chief Anthony Boadle and Mark Sullivan, who was a diplomat in the US Interests Section in Havana. He was accused of being a CIA agent in the programme.