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June 2, 2010

Floribert Chebeya, a leading human rights activist, has been found dead in his car outside of Kinshasa, a  day after being reported missing by colleagues and relatives after they failed to reach him on his cell phone.

Floribert Chebeya was summoned to meet with the General Inspector of the Police, General John Numbi, yesterday morning. He went to the Inspectorate with his driver around 5pm. His wife told Radio Okapi that they exchanged text messages until around 9pm, when he told her that he did not meet with General Numbi and was now heading to a local University. That was the last time she heard from him.

His rights group, la Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), issued an urgent press release reporting him missing last night. He was found dead in his car this morning in Mitendi. The whereabouts of his driver are still unknown.

Floribert Chebeya was a pioneer in the field of human rights in the Congo (then called Zaire). He first became well-known nationwide in the 1990s for his defense of prisoners’ living conditions (many of them arrested for political reasons), their treatment, and access to the legal system.

He founded la Voix des Sans Voix in 1988 with other students to fight for human rights and democratization, at a time when only few dared to challenge Mobutu’s dictatorship. 

At the time of his death, he was the head of the National Network of Human Rights and Non-Governmental Organizations in the Congo. He had received many awards for his work from national and international organizations.

He was harassed and arrested many times under the Mobutu regime, and under both Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila.

Amnesty International said in a statement that Floribert Chebeya “felt he had been followed and that he was under surveillance by the security services.”

“The government must urgently investigate this cold blooded murder and prosecute those responsible,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program. “Those who defend the rights of others must be allowed to continue their work free of harassment and persecution.”