Over 100 authors from around the world have written a letter to the president of Rwanda about the case of poet Innocent Bahati, who's been missing for over a year, the Guardian reports.
Margaret Atwood, Elid Shafak, Ben Okri, and JM Coetzee are among the collective of writers urging the Rwandan government to move on Bahati's behalf with massive action.
PEN International, a human rights organization, reported that Bahati was last seen on February 7, 2021, where he was at a hotel in the Nyanza district, in the Southern Province of Rwanda.
Bahati, who published poetry on YouTube and Facebook, never returned to Kigali, and his phones have been turned off.
“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,” the authors' letter read.
The letter stated that Bahati disappeared back in 2017 after being critical of Rwanda on Facebook. Several days later, he turned up in police custody and was imprisoned for three months without a trial. He was not charged for any crime and was freed following a court order.
They also highlight the remarks of Edouard Bamporiki, Rwandan secretary of state in charge of culture, who reportedly said “when poetry loses its way, it can mislead the public. It is for this reason that I ask you to forget the difficulties that the 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," the letter continued. "They suggest a pattern of intolerance to free poetic expression by officials, and they legitimately raise suspicions that Bahati may have disappeared in relation to his poetry,” said the authors. “We believe that someone within the Rwandan administration knows about the whereabouts or fate of Bahati … Poetry is not a crime. The world awaits to hear the voice of Innocent Bahati, again.”