Cameroon‘s main opposition leader Maurice Kamto has been charged with sedition, insurrection and inciting violence, his lawyer said, as authorities banned planned protest marches in the capital Yaounde.
Kamto’s lawyer, Christopher Ndong, told the AP news agency on Thursday that the leader of Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC), who was arrested in the city of Douala on Monday, faced a total of eight charges. If he is found guilty, he could face a sentence of five years to life in prison.
Kamto and some 200 people were arrested after opposition marches broke out last weekend against the reelection of Cameroon’s veteran leader Paul Biya.
All of the detainees face the same charges as Kamto, lawyer Sylvain Souop told the AFP news agency.
Kamto has been mobilising dissent against 85-year-old Biya since losing what he said was a fraudulent election in October.
Biya, who has held power for 36 years, won 71.3 percent of the votes, far ahead of Kamto’s 14.2 percent.
The election had a very low turnout in English-speaking regions after more than 200,000 people fled fighting between Anglophone separatists and security forces.
Souop, who met Kamto on Wednesday, said the opposition leader was in good spirits.
“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,” the lawyer said.
Meanwhile, four planned marches scheduled for Friday and Saturday and the following week were prohibited for the “preservation of public order”, according to Jean-Claude Tsila, an administrator in the capital city.
The organisers of the marches have been asked to “give up their plans”, Tsila said in a statement read out on state radio.
After protests erupted in the capital and several other towns last weekend, Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi accused Kamto and MRC of trying to “destabilise” the government.
Anti-government protests also took place in some European capitals with Cameroonian demonstrators breaking into the country’s embassies in France and Germany.
In Paris, they smashed pictures of Biya and caused other damage.
The MRC officials, however, denied organising the protests abroad.
“Kamto denounces this vandalism in diplomatic missions. He has never sent anyone to break anything,” said Souop, the lawyer.
A former justice minister under Biya, Kamto “has confidence in the justice of Cameroon”, Souop said.
Human rights groups have condemned Kamto’s arrest and called for his immediate release.
“Instead of taking steps towards improving the country’s human rights record, we are witnessing the authorities becoming less and less tolerant of criticism,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa deputy director.
The arrest of the opposition leader and his supporters “signals an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists in Cameroon”, Daoud said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as peaceful protesters detained at the weekend simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”