Kizito Mihigo

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Kizito Mihigo
Kizito Mihigo à l'orgue de Koekelberg.jpg
Kizito Mihigo playing organ of Koekelberg Basilica, Belgium - 2010.
Background information
Birth nameKizito Mihigo
Born (1981-07-25) 25 July 1981 (age 37)
Kibeho, Rwanda
Genresgospel, sacred music
Occupation(s)singer, organist, composer
Instrumentsorgan, keyboard
Years active1995–2014
Associated actsTelevision presenter, Peace and reconciliation activist

Kizito Mihigo (born 25 July 1981) is a Rwandan gospel singer, songwriter, organist, composer of sacred music and television presenter. Genocide survivor, peace and reconciliation activist, he studied at the Conservatoire de Paris in France.[1] In 2010 he created the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation.[2]

In April 2014, after releasing a critical song immediately prohibited by Rwandan authorities, Mihigo was arrested and charged with planning to oust the government.[3] In February 2015, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy against the government of President Paul Kagame.[4] On 15 September 2018, with Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Mihigo was released by presidential grace.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Kizito Mihigo was born 25 July 1981 in Kibeho, Nyaruguru district, in the former Gikongoro Province (now Southern Province) in Rwanda. The third of six children, his parents are Augustin Buguzi and Placidie Ilibagiza.[6][7] At the age of 9, he began composing songs, and 5 years later, when he was studying in secondary school at the "Petit Seminaire de Butare", he became the most popular liturgical organist and composer of the Catholic Church in Rwanda.[8]

In 1994, Mihigo lost his family and was orphaned in the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. He escaped to Burundi where he met members of his family who survived. He tried in vain to join the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) to avenge his family.[9][10] In July 1994, Mihigo returned to Rwanda. After high school, he enrolled at the seminary to become a priest, and through music and the Christian faith, he managed to forgive those who killed his father.[8][9][10]


In 2001, he participated in the composition of the Rwandan national anthem and thereafter was granted a Presidential scholarship to study at the Conservatoire de Paris (with the financial support of Rwandan President Paul Kagame).[11][12]

In Paris, Mihigo undertook organ and composition courses under the supervision of Françoise Levechin- Gangloff, owner of the great organ of the Saint-Roch church in Paris, professor at the National Conservatory of Music and Dance of Paris - CNSMDP - and President of the International Conservatory of Music in Paris - CIMP.[1] He then began his international music career based in Belgium.

Back to Rwanda[edit]

In 2011, Kizito Mihigo settled permanently in Rwanda and became a high artistic personality respected by the population and by the government.[13] He was regularly invited to sing at all national ceremonies for the genocide commemoration.[11] He became known also through many invitations in official ceremonies either in parliament or elsewhere, to interpret the national anthem in the presence of the Head of state and other senior dignitaries.[2][11][12][14]


Kizito Mihigo performing during the 17th genocide commemoration national ceremony - Amahoro Stadium, Kigali - April 7, 2011

His close relationship with the Power attracted much criticism from his Christian fans, who were disappointed by their liturgical composer's possible deviation towards politically oriented themes. However, in 2011 the singer tried to reassure his fans.[15]

His religious concerts attracted a large number of people in Kigali and Kibeho, the artist’s birthplace. Such events are often celebrated in the presence of different ministers.[16][17]

In 2011, the most popular concerts of the artist were the ones for Easter and Christmas.[18][19]


Since the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan prolific singer has composed more than 400 songs in 20 years.[20]

The most popular are:

Activism for peace and reconciliation[edit]

Kizito Mihigo with Bénédict-Fleur Vappereau, the National Secretary of the MIR France, after the Mass for Peace - Brussels - December, 2007.[25]

During his stay in Europe, he met the Mouvement international de la Réconciliation - MIR, a French NGO that advocates for non-violence.[26] In 2007, in collaboration with the organization, Kizito Mihigo organized a Mass for Peace in Africa, held in Brussels.[25]

For the African Catholic community living in Europe, he has been regularly organizing concerts of sacred music followed by a Requiem Mass for the victims of all kinds of violence in the world. These masses were celebrated by Monsignor Leonard, who at the time was the bishop of Namur. In 2010, the latter became archbishop of Brussels.[27]

In 2010, the singer created the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation - KMP - a non-governmental organization advocating for peace and reconciliation.[2][11][12]

Kizito Mihigo dressed KMP foundation uniforms - Kigali - 2013

Having settled in Rwanda, together with his Foundation, in partnership with the Rwandan government, World Vision International and the United States Embassy in Kigali, he began a tour in schools and in all prisons of Rwanda.[8]

Kizito Mihigo received at the KMP headquarter, US students from Harwood Union High School - Kigali - February 22, 2013 [28]

In schools, the goal was to promote youth education regarding peace and reconciliation, as well as the establishment of peace clubs. In prisons, the singer’s aim was to generate debates with inmates about the crimes committed, before creating dialog clubs called "conflict transformation clubs".[6][6]


Kizito Mihigo receiving CYRWA award given by the first lady of Rwanda Jeannette Kagame - Kigali - August 2011

In August 2011, in recognition of his activities for peace, Kizito Mihigo received a CYRWA award (Cerebrating Young Rwandan Archivers) given by the Imbuto foundation, an organization of the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame.[7][8][11][29][30]

In April 2013, the Rwanda Governance Board recognized the Kizito Mihigo Peace foundation (KMP) among the top ten local NGOs that have promoted good governance in Rwanda. On this occasion, the Foundation received the "RGB award" of Rwf 8,000,000 (eight million Rwandan Francs).[31]

President Paul Kagame himself had always presented Kizito Mihigo as a model for young Rwandans.[20]

Television presenter[edit]

Since 2012, Kizito Mihigo presented Umusanzu w'Umuhanzi ("The artist’s contribution"), a weekly national television program produced by KMP Foundation.[6]

In this one-hour program every Tuesday at 10 pm, the singer broadcasts and comments on his concerts with prisoners and students. Once a month through this program, Mihigo organises an interreligious dialogue, which takes the form of a debate with religious leaders to understand the role of religion in peacebuilding.[6]

Private life[edit]

A Catholic Christian, Kizito Mihigo is an admirer of Mozart, Bach, and Haendel,[1] as well as a fan of martial arts and cinema. Though Mihigo has long been single with no children, a 2012 rumor in the local media spoke of a secret love affair between him and Miss Jojo, a local R & B singer. When interviewed, both parties denied the relationship and spoke instead of a deep friendship.[6]

Since 2009, Kizito Mihigo has appeared often in the showbiz media of Kigali as one of the celebrities who attracts the most women in Rwanda.[6]

In April 2013, The New Times ranked him as the second hottest male celebrity in Rwanda.[32]


In March 2014, Mihigo uploaded a new song called "Igisobanuro Cy’urupfu" ("The Meaning of Death") on YouTube. The song challenges the official narrative of the Rwandan genocide. The song was immediately prohibited by the Rwandan government and quickly deleted from the website.[3]

On 7 April 2014, the day of the 20th commemoration of the genocide, the singer was reported missing.[3] On 12 April, former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu claimed Mihigo was in police custody over his controversial song.[33] On 15 April 2014, Mihigo was presented to journalists by the Rwanda National Police, arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks and collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) political parties in order to oust the government.[3] WikiLeaks later revealed that the singer was kidnapped on 4 April, 10 days before the official announcement of his arrest.[34]

Many observers were convinced that Mihigo's arrest was linked to the prohibited song that had been released a few days earlier.[3][11][12][22][35] A few weeks before the announcement of his arrest, during a speech for the graduation ceremony for police officers at Gishari, Paul Kagame declared: "I am not a singer to entertain haters of Rwanda".[36] After the official announcement of the arrest, the Rwandan government banned the broadcast of all Mihigo's songs on local radio and televisions.[37]

After the hearing dated 21 April 2014, a "confession" interview was broadcast where Mihigo "pleaded guilty to all charges and requested to be assisted by a lawyer". In a second "confession" interview, he declared that he had "accepted the idea of reading a statement denouncing the lack of the rule of law in Rwanda and calling the youth to rise".[38]


One human rights defender interviewed by Radio France Internationale said, "Those kinds of confessions are contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence". Other Rwandan Human Rights activists spoke of "an action to oppress Reconciliation actes" [39] On the other side, Rwandan official sources rejected accusations of possible torture.[38]

For Monsignor André-Joseph Léonard, the arrest of Mihigo seemed like a mistake based on Mihigo's identity: "There is an error on the person, I can never consider Kizito as a man who would be dangerous to society," said the Archbishop of Brussels, a year later, in an interview with the Jambo News.[27]

International press[edit]

Several international media outlets commented on the event. According to Radio France Internationale, the arrest of the musician caused confusion in the country, as well as fear of possible destabilization. The widely broadcast confessions of the singer by local media and some politicians' speeches before the trial began caused outrage among human rights activists who denounced the violation of the presumption of innocence.[38][40][41]

According to Al Jazeera Television and France Inter Radio, the singer's kidnapping on the eve of the 20th commemoration of the genocide resulted from the lyrics of his song Igisobanuro cy'urupfu, in which he challenged the Commemoration Policy implemented by the Kigali government led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.[3][23][42]

For Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman, author of numerous books about Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, it was difficult to believe that the singer was working with the FDLR. Interviewed by Le Nouvel Observateur, she considered the singer's arrest a sign of internal unrest: "There is no doubt, something else is going on, which we don't know because everyone is silent as usual in Rwanda," she said in the daily newspaper Le Soir.[43]

International Federation for Human Rights[edit]

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) denounced the arrest as having a political aftertaste. The organization spoke of "a new proof of the repressive turn of the regime of Rwandan President Paul Kagame".[44]

Reporters Without Borders[edit]

Reporters Without Borders reacted after the arrest of Mihigo and his co-defendants, including journalist Cassian Ntamuhanga. The NGO denounced the illegal detention of the journalist a week before the official announcement of the police, and it was concerned about the deteriorating environment for the media in Rwanda.[45]

United States[edit]

The United States of America expressed their concern following the arrest of Mihigo. On this occasion, according to Radio France Internationale, Washington reminded the Rwandan government the importance of "allowing freedom of expression [...] respecting the freedom of the press and granting defendants the minimum guarantee for a fair trial". [46]

United Kingdom[edit]

The United Kingdom also reconsidered the case of Mihigo and his co-defendants, asking the Rwandan government to ensure a fair trial.[47]

Rwandan government and opposition parties in exile[edit]

After the reaction of the United Kingdom and the United States, President Kagame, during his visit to Western Province, rejected the criticism of arbitrary arrests. He threatened to "continue arrests and even kill in broad daylight those who would attempt to destabilize the country".[48]

The Rwandan opposition in exile, comprising the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), condemned Mihigo's arrest.[49] A Rwanda National Congress spokesman declared that he was disturbed and disappointed by the president's speech and said Mihigo's arrest was a consequence of his song Igisobanuro cy'Urupfu.[50]


After two postponements, the trial began on 6 November in Kigali. Mihigo plead guilty to all charges against him and requested leniency from the panel of judges.[51] His lawyers said they did not find the elements of an offense.[52] The three co-defendants plead not guilty and claimed torture.[53][54][55]


The prosecution accused Mihigo of having conversations via Internet with an alleged member of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition party in exile that Kigali describes as terrorist. In these written conversations, Mihigo suggested a reversal of the Government with names of people to be killed, among them President Paul Kagame.[52]

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the prosecutor said that the accused were hoping to avenge Colonel Patrick Karegeya, former head of the Rwandan army intelligence who became a political opponent against the government of Kagame. The co-founder of the RNC was found strangled on 1 January 2014 in a luxury hotel in South Africa. The South African government has accused Rwanda of being behind the assassination and attempted assassination of Rwandan exiled opponents in South Africa, which the Rwandan authorities have always denied. But after the death of Karegeya, the Rwandan President said that "anyone who will betray Rwanda shall assume its consequences".[56]

In his argument, Mihigo acknowledged having had these conversations with a man named Sankara but denied the intention to kill the President and said his commitment in the discussions was motivated by simple curiosity. "I was in conflict with some of the officials at that time, but I have never had problems with the President," he told Radio France Internationale.[52] His lawyers continued to argue that none of this constitutes a crime.[52]

On the second day of the trial, Mihigo asked in vain to be judged alone.[57] On the third day of the trial, in open court, Mihigo waived his lawyers and continued to plead guilty.[54]

During the trial, prosecutors requested perpetuity against Mihigo.[20]


On 27 February 2015, Mihigo was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy against the government of Kagame. However, due to the lack of evidence, he was discharged of "conspiracy to commit terrorism".[4][56]

Reactions after verdict[edit]

After the verdict was announced, there were many reactions from the international press, various international non-governmental organizations and the Rwandan political opposition.

International press[edit]

On the day of the verdict, the international press including France 24, Radio France Internationale and Reuters reconsidered the song "Igisobanuro cy'urupfu" (The meaning of death) which, according to observers, would have caused the wrath of the regime, and the fall from grace of the Christian singer formerly close to President Kagame and his government.[4] Some observers interviewed by Agence France-Presse talked of a "feverish power that does not tolerate dissenting voices".[58]

For Susan Thomson, Professor at Colgate University in New York, the trial was a sign that the government was on the defensive: "I interpret it as a weakness sign [...] since they have to eliminate people with a potential base in the country". The American author of numerous books on Rwanda also stated that "the Government is using the trial of Kizito Mihigo as an alert message to all those who would want to be politically active". [58]

For the Huffington Post observers, Kizito Mihigo was forced to plead guilty without a lawyer, and to hope for a release, which unfortunately had no effect on his sentence.[59]

====Critical song====One melancholy song published on the Internet a few days before the start of the 20th commemoration of the genocide – and immediately banned by the Rwandan authorities – said the following:

"...Though the genocide orphaned me, let it not make me loose empathy for others. Their lives too were brutally taken but not qualified as genocide. Those brothers and sisters they too are human beings. I pray for them. I comfort them. I remember them ... Death is never good, be it by the genocide, or war or slaughtered in revenge killings... "[58]

The Christian singer was referring to alleged crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ruling party.[4][14][58] In the same song, the singer criticized a program called "Ndi umunyarwanda" (I am Rwandan). In this controversial program launched by President Kagame in 2013, all Hutu population is urged to apologize for having participated in the genocide against Tutsis.

"My dignity and love are not rooted in carnal life nor in material possessions, but in humanity. Let the words I am Rwandan be preceded by I am human"[60]

says the rwandan genocide survivor in the 4th verse of his song Igisobanuro cy'urupfu.[11][60]

International Non Governmental Organizations for the Defence of Human Rights[edit]

After the verdict, the International non-governmental organizations for the defence of human rights, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, criticized the conduct of criminal proceedings in their reports for the year 2014/15, denouncing the illegal detention, torture and the politicization of the trial.[61][62] In the 2015/2016 report, Amnesty International speaks of an "unfair trial [...] believed to be politically motivated". [63] For Human Rights Watch, "Mihigo was held incommunicado in an unknown location for several days in April 2014 before being formally questioned by the police and brought to trial".[64] Before and during his incommunicado detention, according to Human Rights Watch, "... government officials repeatedly questioned him about a religious song he had written in March in which he prayed for victims of the genocide as well as for victims of other violence. They also questioned him about his alleged links with the RNC. Police officers beat him and forced him to confess to the offenses with which he was later charged in court".[65]

Reporters Without Borders also returned to this verdict, requesting that the decision of the Kigali court be reviewed on appeal.[66]

Political opposition[edit]

After the verdict was announced, Rwandan political opposition parties said that "Kizito Mihigo is a political prisoner", judged in "the trial with the regime's image".[67][68]

European Union[edit]

In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in a single reading on 6 October, the institution condemns politically motivated trials and attacks on freedom of expression in Rwanda especially the trial of Victoire Ingabire. The case of Kizito Mihigo is also mentioned. The Euro MPs urge the Rwandan authorities "immediately to release all individuals and other activists detained or convicted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression".[69]

In prison[edit]

According to Mediapart, in prison, the Rwandese singer didn't give up the fight for peace and reconciliation. Quoting testimonies from the singer's fellow detainees, the website reports that after his arrival in Kigali Central Prison, Kizito Mihigo is said to have contributed to the restoration of trust between some prisoners who were continuously agitated by ethnic hatred. He did not spare his efforts in the sensitization of the detainees to behavior and actions for tolerance and unity.[70]

Appeal and release[edit]

On 10 September 2018, Mihigo abandoned his appeal complaint, which he had lodged in the Supreme Court. Four days later, on 14 September, with Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, he was released by presidential grace.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Biographie de l'artiste rwandais Kizito Mihigo". (in French). 9 June 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "Portrait de Kizito Mihigo, un chanteur qui risque la prison à vie". Afrique Infos (in French). 16 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Dissident 'choirboy': Rwandan gospel star on trial". Al Jazeera. 11 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d "Le chanteur rwandais Kizito Mihigo condamné à 10 ans de prison". France 24 (in French). 28 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Kizito Mihigo, Victoire Ingabire get presidential pardon". The New Times. 15 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Kizito Mihigo using music to spread peace in society". The Independent. 3 October 2012. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Kizito Mihigo Urges Artistes to Promote Peace Through Music". The New Times. 10 April 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Kizito uses music to promote peace, reconciliation". New Times. 20 November 2012.
  9. ^ a b "How l overcame desire for revenge – Kizito Mihigo". New Times. 25 April 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Génocide au Rwanda, 13 ans après.Témoignage du rescapé Kizito Mihigo: Croire en Dieu après le génocide". Alter Info (in French). 4 May 2007.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "Kizito Mihigo, chanteur vedette et accusé en aveux". Le soir (in French). 25 April 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d "Rwanda: quatre personnes arrêtées, dont le chanteur Kizito Mihigo". RFI (in French). 16 April 2014.
  13. ^ "Un artiste rwandais s'insurge contre les "falsificateurs de l'histoire" du génocide de 1994". PanaPress (in French). 19 April 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Rwandan singer jailed for plot to kill president". Reuters. 27 February 2015.
  15. ^ a b c "Kizito Mihigo churns out Liberation song". New Times (in French). 28 June 2011.
  16. ^ "Mihigo planning mega concerts". New Times. 4 September 2010.
  17. ^ "Kizito Mihigo's concert was grand". New Times. 1 November 2010.
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  37. ^ "Rwanda: Pourquoi l'affaire Kizito Mihigo est louche". The Rwandan (in French). 23 April 2014.
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  50. ^ "Rwanda: les réactions sont nombreuses après les propos de Paul Kagame". RFI (in French). 7 June 2014.
  51. ^ "Rwanda: accusé de "terrorisme", le musicien Kizito Mihigo plaide coupable". RTBF (in French). 6 November 2014.
  52. ^ a b c d "Rwanda: à l'ouverture de son procès, Kizito Mihigo plaide coupable". RFI (in French). 7 November 2014.
  53. ^ "Procès de Kizito Mihigo: comparution de Cassien Ntamuhanga". RFI (in French). 15 November 2014.
  54. ^ a b "Rwanda: en plein procès, Kizito Mihigo renonce à ses avocats". RFI (in French). 15 November 2014.
  55. ^ "Rwanda treason accused claims torture". The Independent. 28 November 2014.
  56. ^ a b "Rwanda singer Kizito Mihigo planned to kill Paul Kagame". BBC. 27 February 2015.
  57. ^ "Le chanteur rwandais Kizito Mihigo n'obtient pas d'être jugé seul". Star Africa (in French). 10 October 2014. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  58. ^ a b c d "Rwanda: 10 ans de prison pour le chanteur populaire Kizito Mihigo". Le Nouvel Observateur (in French). 27 February 2015.
  59. ^ "Rwanda: Le chanteur Kizito Mihigo n'aura pas été libéré pour autant..." Huffington Post (in French). 27 October 2015.
  60. ^ a b "Artist in politics: Kizito Mihigo's Dead-End in Rwanda". Jukwaa. 3 May 2014.
  61. ^ "The 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide was commemorated in ceremonies and other events across Rwanda, and in many other countries". HRW. 2015.
  62. ^ "Amnesty International Report 2014/2015". Amnesty International. 25 February 2015.
  63. ^ "Amnesty International Report 2015/2016". Amnesty International. 26 February 2016.
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  65. ^ "Rwanda: Ex-Military Officers Convicted Over Comments". HRW. 1 April 2016.
  66. ^ "Un journaliste rwandais écope d'une peine de 25 ans de prison". RSF (in French). 2 March 2015.
  67. ^ "Rwanda : Kizito Mihigo is a political prisoner". The Rwandan. 7 March 2015.
  68. ^ "Rwanda: Kizito Mihigo - Un procès à l'image du régime". The Rwandan (in French). 7 March 2015.
  69. ^ "European Parliament condemns human rights abuses in Rwanda". Justice Info. 7 October 2016.
  70. ^ "En prison,le chanteur populaire Kizito Mihigo ne trahit pas ses valeurs". Mediapart (in French). 25 May 2016.

External links[edit]