At least 350 members and supporters of Cameroon's main opposition party, including its vice president, were arrested across the country this weekend after they tried to hold demonstrations. The arrests, targeting the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) party, appear to mark yet another step in the government's attempt to limit political dissent.
Cameroon security forces have used excessive and indiscriminate force to snuff out other MRC demonstrations. And in late January, MRC leader Maurice Kamto and some of his closest allies were arrested alongside another 200 MRC members and supporters after they held country-wide protests. They remain in detention on politically motivated charges.
Over the past few weeks, the MRC submitted several requests for authorization to protest Kamto's arrest and call for his release. The requests were rejected by administrative authorities, citing security reasons. But last weekend, MRC leaders and supporters decided to disregard the ban, marching in several cities across the country.
One MRC's lawyer, Emmanuel Simh, told Human Rights Watch: "We filed dozens of requests to hold peaceful marches and as usual authorities refused them all. But we think the constitutional right to peaceful assembly cannot be taken arbitrarily away from us."
Government authorities clearly did not agree.
MRC demonstrators in the city of Douala were dispersed with water cannons, while in the capital Yaoundé at least three demonstrators were injured during their arrest and another was beaten upon arrival at the city's police headquarters.
MRC members and supporters remain in detention. At least 75 protestors have been released, some of whom say they were held without access to lawyers at the Secretariat d'Etat à la Defense in Yaoundé, a prison where Human Rights Watch has documented the use of torture.
MRC lawyers showed us photos of injuries to one of their supporters released from SED.
A recent UN Security Council meeting flagged the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Cameroon's restive anglophone regions, and these arrests are likely to provoke further international concern. The government should know that the world is watching closely.