Congo human rights activist found dead

 

ONE OF Congo’s leading human rights activists has been found dead, under what international rights organisations have called suspicious circumstances.

The body of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire (47), the executive director of the Congolese human rights organisation Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), was found on the back seat of his car on Wednesday morning in a suburb of the capital, Kinshasa. The driver of the car, who was also a member of the organisation, is still missing.

“We strongly condemn the death of Mr Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, whose death occurred in suspicious circumstances,” said Eric Sottas, secretary general of World Organisation Against Torture.

Amnesty International called on the government to launch an immediate investigation into Mr Chebeya’s death. “We are stunned and appalled by the suspicious death of such a prominent and respected human rights defender,” said Véronique Aubert, deputy director of the group’s Africa programme.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr Chebeya was summoned to a meeting with the country’s chief of police. However, after he sent several text messages to his wife, there was no further contact with him after 9.15pm on Tuesday.

There was no visible sign of violence on his body said Gen Jean de Dieu Oleko, head of the Kinshasa police force. However, as of yesterday afternoon, the deputy executive director of Voix des Sans Voix, Dolly Ibefo Mbunga, said he had still not been allowed to see the body.

In January 1999, Mr Chebaya was held for several hours by military intelligence and threatened with death and other physical violence because of letters he had written requesting information about detainees in prison.

In March last year, he was arrested and detained with two other activists and a journalist at a press conference in Kinshasa, where he was giving details of plans for a peaceful march and sit- in for the following day.

However in recent months, he told Amnesty International that the level of intimidation had increased. He said he thought he was being followed and watched by the security services.

This surveillance could be linked with elections due in July next year.

“The government is cracking down on anyone making accusations of human rights abuses ahead of next year’s elections,” Ms Aubert said.