YAOUNDE - At least 73 people have been arrested in demonstrations in Cameroon as thousands of supporters of Maurice Kamto, the man who says he won the October 7 presidential election, have defied a heavy police presence and are staging protests in several towns of the central African state. They are seeking the immediate release of their party leader, among other things, and scores of his supporters have been jailed since January.
During a protest on Saturday in Yaounde, businessman Moustapha Ali, 27, said he will continue protesting until they find justice, which he said is being denied to them by Cameroon President Paul Biya, his government and the institutions he has created.
He said no one will stop them from pressing for freedom for Kamto and those supporters arrested at the beginning of the year. He said even though Kamto has not been inaugurated, he nonetheless is legitimately the president of Cameroon.
At least a dozen people, including Kamto's first vice president, Mamadou Mota of the MRC party, have been arrested and detained in Yaounde and Douala.
The strong police presence and their anti-riot equipment did not deter demonstrators in several towns, including Douala, Banjoun, Bafoussam and Bouda. Cameroon had banned protests in most of its cities, saying it was a threat to peace.
Lejeune Mbella Mbella, Cameroon's minister of External Relations, warned last week during a meeting with diplomats, United Nations staff and international NGO's that the planned protests would not be tolerated.
Mbella Mbella said any political action or initiative that questions the legitimacy and legality of Paul Biya as president of Cameroon is tantamount to undermining Cameroon state sovereignty and is intended to disrupt public peace. He says the country's constitutional council examined and threw out as baseless all petitions filed by those who contested the election and Cameroon's institutions.
Fidel Djoumessi, an official of Kamto's MRC party, said the protests will continue until Kamto and his supporters are freed, the government opens up dialogue to resolve the crisis that has claimed close to 2,000 lives, and investigations are opened into why the Confederation of African Football seized hosting rights of the 2019 Africa Football Cup of Nations from Cameroon.
He said it is a scandal the government of Cameroon would decide to prohibit peaceful protests, which are a constitutional right. He said he does not understand why simple demonstrations to ask for electoral reforms and talks to return to the restive English-speaking regions should be described by the government as a threat to national security.
Police arrested Kamto, nine of his party officials and close to 200 of their supporters last January after days of peaceful protests in cities, including the political capital Yaounde and the economic capital Douala.
Similar protests took place in various Cameroon embassies around the world, including Paris and Berlin, where the pictures of president Biya were shattered.
Kamto and his colleagues were accused of inciting the protesters and now are facing eight charges, including treason, inciting violence, and disruption of public peace.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been calling on Cameroon to release all peaceful protesters, including Kamto.