The EU on Friday criticised Cameroon for using excessive force to disperse a string of weekend protests over which more than a 140 people were arrested, including the opposition leader, and charged with insurrection.
Saturday’s protests were organised by the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC), the main opposition party whose leader Maurice Kamto claimed he was he was defrauded of victory in October’s presidential elections.
The unauthorised rallies took place in the capital Yaounde as well as in Douala and other towns and cities, prompting a crackdown by the security forces.
The opposition had said 200 people were arrested. Communication Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi on Friday put the figure at 147.
Images on social media showed violent confrontations with the security forces in Douala, the economic capital, where the MRC said “many people had sustained bullet wounds”.
But the government put the overall number of people injured at six, insisting that its forces only used rubber bullets and not live fire.
“Demonstrations recently took place in many towns in Cameroon which gave rise to a disproportionate use of force by the security forces and multiple arrests, including of the leaders of the main opposition party,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement on Friday.
“Finding a solution to the challenges faced by the country can only be achieved through dialogue in a calm and inclusive atmosphere where fundamental rights and the rule of law are respected,” she said.
Following the protests, several senior party figures were arrested, including Kamto, prompting Amnesty International to warn about “an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon”.
Prosecutors have levelled eight charges against Kamto and other detainees, including “group rebellion, hostility to the homeland (and) insurrection,” their lawyers have said.
Thirty-four detainees appeared in court on Friday on charges of attending an unauthorised demonstration, preventing the security forces from doing their job and not dispersing when they fired warning shots.
All pleaded not guilty.
Two journalists who were arrested on Monday evening were released on Friday, their newspaper, Le Jour, told AFP.
President Paul Biya, now 85, was reelected in October for a seventh consecutive term with 71 percent, while Kamto took just 14 percent, prompting his supporters to stage a series of protests over what they claim was an “electoral hold-up”.
Biya has ruled Cameroon since 1982 with support from the army, government administrations and the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC) that he created in 1985.