Floribert Chebeya, head of the Voix des sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) human rights group, was found dead in his car near Kinshasa last Wednesday. He had been summoned to meet the police chief that evening.
Three police officers have also been arrested, a development cited by the interior minister as evidence that the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila is determined to resolve the case.
More than 50 human rights groups have demanded an independent enquiry into the killing in an open letter to Kabila.
The police chief, John Numbi, is seen as a close ally of the Congolese president, the BBC’s Thomas Fessy reports from Kinshasa.
Colleagues described Chebeya as a fearless campaigner for democracy and human rights.
“Whatever the issue, he never backed down,” said one friend. “He took every risk to ensure that the country be run honestly and the wealth shared out fairly.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has demanded an independent inquiry into the incident. Calls for an independent investigation also came from the United States and the European Union.
One of the DRC’s largest human rights groups, VSV has been a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy since 1991.
Chebeya had been harassed and threatened on dozens of occasions. Democracy and human rights activists have been attacked by official sources on national TV, as the NED’s Joshua Marks has previously reported.
“Threats and intimidation [are] unfortunately part of the working environment in which [rights activists in the DRC] have to operate,” said Amnesty’s Erwin van der Borght.
Responsibility for the killing “goes beyond the small circle” of arrested officers, said Jacob Balushi, president of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights. “This is the trial of a whole system.”