Human rights groups and activists are appealing to the Cameroonian authorities to immediately release opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who was arrested in the economic capital Douala on Monday night.
Prof Kamto was reportedly whisked away to the Judicial Police Headquarters in the capital Yaoundé. The area was cordoned off and no one, including his lawyers and journalists, were allowed access to the detained opposition leader on Tuesday.
Amnesty International said the arrest of the leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), who came second in the October 2018 presidential election, signalled an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists.
Prof Kamto was arrested alongside four of his supporters.
“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as the peaceful protesters detained at the weekend simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Amnesty's West and Central Africa director Samira Daoud said in a statement.
“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,” the statement further quoted Ms Daoud.
The Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC) said Prof Kamto’s arrest was a “flagrant violation of the law” and called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the opposition leader and all those who were arrested in relation to last weekend’s protests.
The MRC secretary-general secretary, Mr Christopher Ndong, said Prof Kamto was arrested alongside several other party members. Two journalists were among those arrested.
Prof Kamto has continuously insisted that he won the presidential poll, whose official result show he emerged a distant second with 14.23 percent vote. His supporters have been organising sporadic protests against what they term “an electoral hold-up” in defiance of a government warning against post-electoral disorder.
At least 117 people, including Prof Kamto’s former campaign manager, Mr Paul Eric Kingue, and popular musician Gaston Serval Abe (Valsero), were arrested during protest marches in several towns including Yaoundé and Bafoussam at the weekend.
Saturday’s nationwide “white marches” by the opposition party were unauthorised according to Communication minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi. He said those arrested were “caught disrupting public order and perpetrating various assaults”.
However, according to the MRC third vice-president, Mr Emmanuel Simh, the hidden aim of the “unjustified political arrests, was to decapitate the MRC and Prof Maurice Kamto’s winning coalition”.
MRC has called on its members and sympathisers to remain calm and attentive to instructions the party national directorate would give.