Inside Africa

Detained Cameroon opposition head accused of rebellion

9 minutes ago | Cameroon Detained Cameroon opposition head accused of rebellion By AFP Kamto came second in a disputed presidential election won last October by Paul Biya, leader of the central African country for 36 years. By Reinnier KAZE (AFP/File)

Cameroon's main opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who was arrested after his supporters staged banned weekend demonstrations, is under investigation for alleged insurrection, his lawyers said.

Eight charges have been levelled against Kamto and 200 other detainees, including "group rebellion (and) hostility to the homeland", the lawyers said late Wednesday.

Kamto came second in a disputed presidential election won last October by Paul Biya, leader of the central African country for 36 years.

The opposition Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) party led by former government minister Kamto claims the vote was rigged and has held sporadic protests in several towns.

Kamto is accused of "(illegal) gatherings, group rebellion, hostility to the homeland, insurrection, breaching the peace, criminal association, incitement to insurrection and complicity," lawyer Sylvain Souop told a press conference.

All of the some 200 detainees face the same allegation, according to Souop, member of a team of 15 lawyers.

"The 'facts' have been defined even before the people have been heard," he protested.

Souop met Wednesday with Kamto, who was picked up at the home of a supporter in the economic capital Douala and detained by the Special Operations Group, an elite police unit.

"He is well, his morale is good and he was interrogated (on Wednesday) in the presence of the director general of the criminal investigation division," Souop said.

'A personal affront'

The MRC rejects official election results from the Constitutional Court that put Kamto in second place with 14.23 percent, while Biya was declared returned to office for a seventh consecutive term with 71.2 percent.

Party officials denied organising anti-government protests at the weekend in Europe, where Cameroonian demonstrators broke into their embassies in France and Germany. In Paris, they smashed pictures of Biya and caused other damage.

"Kamto denounces this vandalism in diplomatic missions. He has never sent anyone to break anything," Souop said.

A former justice minister under Biya, Kamto "has confidence in the justice of Cameroon," the lawyer concluded.

After the weekend protests, Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi accused Kamto and the MRC of trying to "destabilise" the government.

About 100 MRC activists were arrested during unauthorised marches in the capital Yaounde and the port of Douala on Saturday, according to the authorities.

Two days later, Kamto and other officials of the MRC, including treasurer Alain Fogue, were picked up in Douala and Yaounde.

Security forces arrested two journalists on Monday night, confusing them for political activists, according to the national journalists' union.

Both men were still in detention on Thursday.

"Never in the past 10 years has the principal opposition leader been arrested with all his staff and so many activists, when the authorities don't have viable legal arguments in their hands," said analyst Hans de Marie Heungoup of the International Crisis Group think tank.

"It's been a long time since Cameroon had an opposition figure of this stature," Heungoup told AFP in Libreville. "He resigned from the government — a rare thing in Cameroon and seen by President Paul Biya as a personal affront."

Amnesty International has warned that the arrest of Kamto and his staff "signals an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon."

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