Authorities in Cameroon should promptly and independently investigate the severe beatings and ill-treatment that 59 opposition supporters -including six women- were allegedly subjected to during their questioning at the State Secretariat for Defense (SED), Amnesty International said today.
Before releasing them, security forces beat them with sticks and forced them into humiliating positions. Amnesty International also calls for the immediate release of their leader Maurice Kamto and more than 100 other supporters arbitrarily detained six months to the day solely for peaceful participation in protests.
"Like many other unofficial detention centres across Cameroon, the SED has a reputation for torturing detainees. These repressive and brutal tactics to silence dissent must end," said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.
"Judicial authorities must investigate the allegations that these 59 opposition members have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and take concrete measures to bring perpetrators to justice."
The 59 opposition members were arrested on 1 June during a planned peaceful protest in the capital Yaoundé. Brought to the SED for questioning about the protest, they were tortured and arbitrarily detained by security forces, who also warned them against participating in another protest scheduled a week later.
Amnesty International interviewed several opposition members now released who were victims of torture or other ill-treatment. They detailed techniques including beatings and hard physical exercises, including against women.
A woman who was released on 3 June told the organization:
"When we arrived, gendarmes asked us to do physical exercises, knees and hips bent, arms out for balance... . They passed by and kicked my head and buttocks... Then ordered us to roll around the ground while continuing to kick with their shoes... we were moved up and down the stairs in the duck position. I was then asked to do push-ups with the men until I could not continue. So, I was again beaten with a belt."
Another ex-detainee described the beating with wooden sticks, cables and batons:
"... We were taken to the SED where gendarmes were waiting for us. Each of them was armed with a wooden stick, a cable and a baton with which we were beaten in the ears and our bodies. They then forced us to walk like a duck in the mud. 53 men and six women were together, some crying, traumatized and shocked. After our release, I spent more than a week at the hospital as I had fractures, bruises and trauma."
While some of his supporters were released, Maurice Kamto, arrested on 28 January 2019, is still behind bars six months later.
An 11 July 2019 military court decision said it has jurisdiction to judge them and confirmed charges of rebellion, hostility against the homeland, incitement to insurrection, offence against the president of the republic, and destruction of public buildings and goods against Maurice Kamto and 107 other people. The same decision dropped all charges against 61 other supporters and ordered their release. Under international law, military courts should not have jurisdiction over civilians.
In January, nearly 300 MRC supporters were arbitrarily arrested along with Kamto. Mass arrests also took place on 1 and 8 June. In Douala, where more than 200 protesters were arbitrarily arrested, 30 of them are currently in administrative custody waiting to appear before an ordinary court.
"By confirming these opposition members are to be tried before a military court, the Cameroonian authorities are failing to respect international law. Kamto and his supporters risk an unfair trial and the deeply disturbing possibility of facing the death penalty," said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry.
"Maurice Kamto and all his supporters should have never been arrested in the first place. Authorities should immediately release them and drop all charges against them."