The Cameroonian government has arrested and detained more than 500 people in the country’s English speaking regions, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Friday.
Amnesty said those detained were arrested following protests in towns in North-West and South-West Cameroon on 1 October, in which more than 20 people were unlawfully shot dead by security forces.
According to the report, in Bamenda, the capital of the North-West Region, at least 200 people were arrested and the majority transferred to the prison in Bafoussam. Meanwhile in Buea, the capital of the South-West region, at least 300 people have been arrested since the 1st October protests, including a series of mass arbitrary arrests between 6 and 8 October.
The report indicts the country’s security forces of using unnecessary or excessive force when conducting arrests, and have destroyed property and looted belongings.
Eyewitnesses in the report, described how prisons have become overcrowded following the wave of arrests. In Buea the prison population has increased from about 1,000 before 22 September to around 1,500 today. The report states that some have already been brought before the courts while others were released following the payment of bribes, with families in Buea reporting to have paid members of the police approximately 60 USD for each family member detained.
Amnesty findings equally reveal how dozens of wounded protestors are fleeing hospitals where they had sought treatment after being shot during demonstrations, putting their lives at risk. “In at least one hospital, security forces entered the building to arrest patients”.
Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher has said the mass arrest of protestors, most of whom were acting peacefully, is not only a violation of human rights, but is also likely to be counter-productive. “The Cameroonian authorities should release anyone detained only for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”
The rights group has also recently raised concerns with respect to the systematic use of torture and other ill-treatment of people suspected of supporting the armed group Boko Haram in Cameroon’s detention facilities.