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Cameroon: UN human rights experts call for end to detention and intimidation of peaceful protesters 

Cameroon Report -YAOUNDE

UN human rights experts have called on Cameroon authorities to release the main opposition leader and others arrested during country-wide peaceful demonstrations, and stop intimidating political activists, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement on Monday.

They also demanded that Cameroon impartially investigate all human rights violations, including allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of protesters, and bring perpetrators to justice.

“We are extremely worried about mass arrests of peaceful protesters and political activists who express dissent,” the experts said. More than 500 people reportedly were arrested after opposition-led protests on 22 September, with some 200 still said to be in detention. They could face terrorism and national security charges and trial in a military court for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

“We are disturbed by the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators by the Cameroonian security forces,” the experts said. “The violence against protesters was indiscriminate, with tear gas and water cannon used to violently disperse them.”

Demonstrators turned out across the country in response to an appeal by opposition party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) to call for national dialogue, electoral system reforms and the return of peace to Anglophone regions of the country. Authorities banned demonstrations in some parts of the country, and branded any attempt to assemble illegal. The Government also heavily deployed security forces to prevent the peaceful demonstrations.

The experts also expressed alarm at reports of torture of peaceful protesters and journalists in detention. “This is truly unacceptable,” they said. “The prohibition against torture and any form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is absolute under international human rights law, and cannot be justified.”

They called on Cameroon to release MRC president Maurice Kamto, who has been under house arrest with his family since the night of 22 September. Security forces prevented him from communicating with his party members and lawyers, and from taking part in the demonstrations.

“Kamto’s house arrest could amount to a deprivation of liberty, in violation of his rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as liberty and security of person,” the experts said.

“We have already communicated our concerns to the State, and we remind Cameroon that under international law every individual has the right to organise and participate in peaceful assemblies, associate with others, and take part in the conduct of public life. None of these acts is a crime, and Cameroon should celebrate and accept dissent, for a true democracy takes into account public demands instead of suppressing them.”

With regional elections scheduled to take place across the country later this year, the experts called on Cameroonian authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure an environment conducive to peaceful and transparent elections.

“Any action which may fuel further social tension must be avoided, and the voices of people and their representatives must be fully taken into account,” they said.

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