YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Hundreds of prisoners, including an opposition party leader, were freed Saturday in Cameroon after Cameroon President Paul Biya ordered a halt to court proceedings against them.
Supporters sang and shouted at the Yaounde military tribunal as opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who claims he won the October 2018 presidential election, was freed along with other members of his party. Among them was 25-year-old Sabastien Ngomfoue, who was one of hundreds arrested last February in Douala for protesting what they called Kamto's stolen election victory .
"I was arrested on the 28th of February. I have been in SED gendarme [detention] in Yaounde for seven months," Ngomfoue said. "This is my first time in court and God almighty, I have been liberated. I plead that they should continue to do more [releases], we [prisoners] face lots of difficulties."
On Friday night at the national dialogue called for by Biya to address the country's crisis — especially the separatist war that has killed 2,000 people — the president ordered an end to court proceedings against some members of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) of Kamto.
Sosthene Medard Lipot, Kamto's spokesperson, said they will continue pressing for Kamto to be officially declared the winner and recognized as president.
Lipot said president Biya should have ordered the justice system that he "manipulates" to hasten Kamto's judgment. He said they wanted to prove in the military tribunal that Kamto's insurrection charges were based on fabrications by the Biya regime.
Kamto and about 500 CRM members were arrested after taking part in peaceful protests against alleged irregularities in the voting process that Biya easily won to claim a seventh term. Official results said Kamto finished a distant second with 14 percent of the vote.
Amos Oum, a municipal counselor who took part in the national dialogue, said one of the strong recommendations made was that Biya should release all prisoners arrested in connection with the separatist war that has killed more than 2,000 in Cameroon's English-speaking regions, as well as people arrested for protesting the poll results.
Oum said he is very happy that shortly after the president received the report, he ordered the release of the political prisoners — an indication that Biya also wants to restore peace.
Biya this week also pardoned 333 separatist fighters accused of misdemeanors. But separatist leaders, including Julius Ayuk Tabe, who were sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal in August, have not been released as requested by some at the national dialogue.