Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, and more call for action over missing Rwandan poet

Over 100 writers have joined forces to write an open letter in the case of missing Rwandan poet, Innocent Bahati, who disappeared a year ago.

Innocent Bahati is a nationally recognised poet from Rwanda who disappeared in the country’s capital last year. According to PEN International, Bahati was last seen at a hotel in Nyanza district, in the Southern Province of Rwanda, in early February 2021.

Bahati is regularly critical of the Rwandan government and had experienced a similar disappearance in 2017 when posting his criticisms online through Facebook. In a statement, PEN International said ” [We] believe that Bahati could be a target of repression by the Rwandan authorities for his legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. We fear that the missing poet could be yet another victim of enforced disappearance.”

Innocent Bahati. (Photo: Adrea Grieder)

Writing in the letter, the authors said “We are bringing this matter to your attention, with a plea for urgent action because, one year later, [Innocent] 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 hundred-plus signatories on the letter include huge international literary hitters like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel, and Elif Shafak.

“Coming shortly after the disappearance of Bahati in 2021, these chilling remarks by an official of your administration are hardly coincidental. They suggest a pattern of intolerance to free poetic expression by officials, and they legitimately raise suspicions that [Innocent] Bahati may have been disappeared in relation to his poetry,” said the writers, in their letter to the government.

“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.”