Cameroon’s security forces put down a riot by prisoners who ransacked and burnt a jail in the capital Yaounde overnight, witnesses told reporters on Tuesday.
The rioters, many of them government opponents or supporters of an English-speaking separatist movement in the country’s west, filmed their protest and posted elements to Facebook.
Several inmates were injured, prison sources said, including former prime minister Inoni Ephraim and ex-minister Urbain Olenguena Awono who were targeted by other prisoners.
Ephraim, who was jailed for 20 years after being convicted on corruption charges in 2016, was hospitalised.
“There were shots all night. It was like fireworks,” as the security forces fought the uprising, a resident told reporters.
Local media reported that no-one was killed, and no prisoners escaped.
Amnesty International on Tuesday called on authorities to avoid “excessive force” and to conduct an investigation into the use of “firearms and live ammunition”.
In a statement, the government said “no live fire was used during the operation” at the prison.
Calm appeared to have returned to the prison by Tuesday, a journalist observed, with police and soldiers erecting a cordon around the jail.
On social media, the inmates demanded their liberation and better food.
Overcrowded jail –
The over-populated central prison of Yaounde, known as Kondengui, was built to accommodate 1,500 inmates but is estimated to house more than double.
It hosts numerous people arrested since an Anglophone separatist uprising started in 2016. Several are serving long prison sentences, others are awaiting trial.
“The crises are accumulating. More and more prisoners in an already overcrowded jail,” said Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, executive director of rights group REDHAC.
Cameroon is in the midst of a security crisis that has pitted separatist English-speaking regions in the west against the French-speaking population elsewhere.
In the north, the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram also stages regular armed attacks.
The country is also facing political ructions, after the head of the opposition Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC), Maurice Kamto, and about 100 of the party’s supporters were arrested in January and remain in detention.
President Paul Biya has been in power for 36 years.
MRC secretary general Christopher Ndong told reporters that security forces had taken several prominent members of the separatist movement — those seen as the leaders of the revolt — from the prison to an unknown destination on Tuesday.
More than one in six people in Cameroon — 4.3 million — need humanitarian aid, an increase of 30 per cent from 2018, according to UN aid officials.
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