Cameroon’s opposition on Sunday denounced the arrests of more than 350 supporters at demonstrations calling for the release of their jailed leader, and criticised the refusal to grant them access to lawyers.
Maurice Kamto, the country’s main opposition figure, who has been held in jail in Yaounde since January, issued a statement via his spokesman decrying “excessive and unjustified use of violence” at the demonstrations held on Saturday.
According to Kamto’s Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) party more than 350 people were arrested, including 180 at Yaounde and 100 in the western city of Nkongsamba.
The party also said that those arrested were denied access to lawyers or any medical aid. Contacted by AFP Saturday, Cameroon’s communications ministry did not respond.
The MRC has been organising demonstrations since the October 2018 presidential election. According to official results, Kamto came second but the MRC says the vote was rigged in favour of President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years.
As well as Kamto, more than 150 of the party’s activists were also imprisoned after one such march at the end of January.
In February, they appeared before a military tribunal in Yaounde accused of “insurrection, hostility to the homeland (and) rebellion”, offences which carry a possible death penalty.
Their lawyers have appealed to the UN working group on arbitrary detention over the arrests.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini criticised the arrests in March and what she called the military court’s “disproportionate” proceedings against them.
US assistant secretary of state for African affairs Tibor Nagy said in March that Cameroon would be “very wise” to release Kamto because his detention is widely perceived as politically motivated.
The government has rejected the international criticism.
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his parliament’s foreign affairs committee that he was “very concerned” by the plight of Maurice Kamto and wanted to see him released.
As well as the political crisis, former French colony Cameroon is wracked by a conflict between separatists and government forces in its English-speaking west, combined with an influx of refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria.