Yaoundé – Amnesty International on Tuesday called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Maurice Kamto, leader of Cameroon’s opposition MRC, after his arrest in the country’s economic capital Douala.
Kamto, who came second in October’s presidential election which he claims was rigged, was detained on Monday at the home of another politician, prompting some 300 people to protest outside.
Cameroon’s ruler Paul Biya, in power in the central African nation for more than three decades, won the election with 71.2 percent. But the MRC has since held sporadic protests after the poll was marred by fraud allegations, low turnout and violence.
Party treasurer Alain Fogue was also arrested on Monday and over the weekend, Paul-Eric Kingue, who ran Kamto’s election campaign, and rapper Valsero were also detained alongside 115 others for attending opposition protest marches in several towns.
Amnesty International warned the arrest of Kamto and his staff “signals an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon”.
“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as peaceful protesters detained at the weekend simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Amnesty’s West and Central Africa director Samira Daoud.
“Instead of taking steps towards improving the country’s human rights record, we are witnessing the authorities becoming less and less tolerant of criticism. This must stop.”
Following Saturday’s demonstrations, Paul Atanga Nji, minister for territorial administration, said the party had “crossed the red line”.
Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi accused Kamto and the MRC of trying to “destabilise” the government.
Kamto’s Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon also denounced his detention.
“(The party) strongly condemns these unjustified… political arrests whose hidden aim is to decapitate the MRC and Maurice Kamto’s winning coalition,” party vice president Emmanuel Simh said in a statement.
Cameroon’s SNJC journalists’ union said in a statement Tuesday that two people arrested on Monday evening were reporters covering a story who had been mistaken for political activists. It called for their immediate release.
Rights group REDHAC, which covers central Africa, called Kamto’s arrest a “flagrant violation” of the law. It called for his “immediate and unconditional” release along with the others detained at the weekend.
The MRC called Saturday’s marches over the weekend as a protest against the re-election of Biya.
On the same day, protesters forced their way into the Cameroonian embassy in Paris, breaking portraits of the president and causing other damage. There were also incidents at the embassy in Berlin.
Cameroon said Tuesday it had summoned both the French and German ambassadors to protest the incidents.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday it condemned the intrusion at the embassy. It was following Kamto’s case closely, he added.
The MRC has organised several unauthorised demonstrations in Cameroon since October, when Biya won a seventh consecutive term in the presidential election. Kamto has insisted he was the rightful winner.