At least 500 people remain detained in overcrowded detention facilities following mass arbitrary arrests in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, and many wounded protestors fled hospitals to avoid arrest, Amnesty International said today.
Those detained were arrested following protests in dozens of towns in North-West and South-West Cameroon on 1 October, in which more than 20 people were unlawfully shot dead by security forces.
“This 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,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.
“The Cameroonian authorities should release anyone detained only for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”
The arrests took place in towns across the regions. In Bamenda, the capital of the North-West Region, at least 200 people were arrested and the majority transferred to the prison in Bafoussam.
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.
On Sunday 8 October, for example, police arrested up to 100 people walking to church in the Mile 16 area of Buea, and entered the building to arrest church staff. Some have now been released.
Security forces including the army – whose deployment for law-enforcement purpose should only be an exceptional measure in an emergency situation – have also used unnecessary or excessive force when conducting arrests, and have destroyed property and looted belongings.
In one incident on 3 October in Buea, a police officer threw a teargas canister into a vehicle containing a dozen protestors, who had to smash the window to let in air. In all the cases documented by Amnesty International, arrests were carried out without warrants.
Eyewitnesses 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. In one facility run by a mobile police unit, the Groupement Mobile d’Intervention (GMI), in Buea, detainees were described as being “packed like sardines”.
Some of those arrested have been charged with secession, and others with charges including not possessing identity papers, destruction of public property or failure to respect order of the governor. Some have already been brought before the courts. 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.
The fear of arrest and large-scale deployment of security forces also led to dozens of wounded protestors 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.
Gathering information from families, eyewitnesses, lawyers and medical centres across the regions, Amnesty International has learnt that in at least nine hospitals people with serious injuries fled before their treatment was finished, have been picked up by families, or have asked to be discharged against the advice of medical staff, because of the fear of arrest.
In one such case, a young man who was left with multiple fractures after being shot in both legs by member of the armed forces was taken home by his family before he could be stabilised. According to a doctor treating the patient “he had lost more than a litre of blood. I do not know whether he is still alive, he may likely die”.
Another medic told Amnesty International: “Some of our patients run away from hospital even before getting stabilized, out of fear that the police would come to arrest them”.
A third medic told the organisation that security forces did not allow him and other doctors to examine the corpses to clinically confirm that they had been shot.
In another case a young man was killed just outside of the hospital, shot in the back of the head by security forces while running away a protest.
Bullets hit the walls of the hospital, penetrating into a room where a doctor and nurses were operating.
“The climate of fear in the Anglophone regions could lead to even more people dying of their wounds, too scared to seek the medical treatment they so desperately need,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
“The security forces should put an end to the arbitrary arrest of protestors and permit that those injured are able to seek treatment without fear. International organisations should also deploy human rights monitors and medical staff to assess the situation and provide emergency care.”