The spokesperson for one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) main opposition parties has been shot dead, according to officials, raising tensions ahead of national elections in December.
Video shared on social media on Thursday purported to show the bullet-ridden body of Cherubin Okende, a former transport minister who was also a member of parliament, slumped inside his car in the capital, Kinshasa.
Okende was a member of the party of Moise Katumbi, a leading opposition politician who is set to contest the presidential election in December.
“It’s a political assassination,” Katumbi told French radio broadcaster RFI, without elaborating. “They want to reduce us to silence,” he said, calling for independent investigations into what he described as an “odious crime”.
Katumbi’s party, Ensemble pour la Republique, said Okende was kidnapped from the parking lot of the Constitutional Court in Kinshasa. A source close to Okende told Reuters news agency the politician had just dropped off a letter in response to a court summons.
His body was subsequently found in his car on one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, an official from the party said.
The presidency said Okende had died in “tragic circumstances” and it urged an investigation to “shed full light on the matter and punish those responsible for this despicable act”.
Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya likewise tweeted that “the government was shocked to learn of the assassination” and that it had ordered a probe.
Okende resigned from the government at the end of December when Katumbi left the ruling coalition and announced his intention to run against President Felix Tshisekedi, who came to office in January 2019.
Political tensions have risen in the run-up to the vote, with several of the leading opposition figures, including Katumbi, insisting that the nation’s electoral authority is planning a fraudulent poll.
Congolese soldiers arrested one of Katumbi’s advisers, Salomon Kalonda, in late May, accusing him of illegal possession of a firearm and of plotting to overthrow the government. Kalonda denies the charges.
The news of Okende’s death sparked small anti-government protests in Kinshasa, with demonstrators burning tyres and shouting “assassin”.
The European Union ambassador to the DRC and the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the country also condemned the murder.