A Yaoundé military court on Saturday ordered the release of Cameroon’s main opponent, Maurice Kamto, and all other opponents present on Saturday alongside him, the day after President Paul Biya’s decision to demand an end to the legal proceedings against them, an AFP journalist said.
“The court shall acknowledge the Prosecutor’s Office, record the stay of proceedings” and “order their release if they are not detained for anything other than what they are accused of,” said the President of the Court, before which 102 people appeared, including Mr. Kamto.
“We acknowledge the release of our clients, who should never have been in prison. Maurice Kamto is released,” Sylvain Souop, the lawyer at the head of the defence collective of Mr. Kamto and his supporters, told AFP. They will be released from prison after the “administrative formalities” necessary for their release, he added.
The detainees and activists remained calm in the courtroom but let their joy burst at the end of the hearing. A prisoner and leader of Mr. Kamto’s party, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), Celestin Djamen, climbed on a bench to harass the crowd.
As Maurice Kamto got into the truck taking him back to the prison for administrative formalities, the other detainees were chanting “Kamto, our president, the people have chosen you”. A refrain regularly chanted by his supporters since the re-election of Paul Biya, 86 years old, 37 of whom were in power, to the 2018 presidential election, whose results the MRC contests, considering that their candidate Kamto, who came second, had won it.
Mr. Kamto, has been in prison for almost nine months. He was arrested at the end of January with hundreds of his supporters following peaceful demonstrations organized to protest against the results of the presidential election.
He and more than 90 of his supporters had since been prosecuted by the military justice system, including a charge of “insurrection”, a crime punishable by the death penalty, even if it is no longer applied in Cameroon. Their trial began on 6 September and was supposed to resume on Tuesday.
A total of 102 people appeared on Saturday before this special audience, said an AFP journalist on the spot, including many opposition figures arrested following these demonstrations in January but also in June.
In addition to Mr. Kamto, among the personalities whose release has been ordered by the court are former economic adviser to President Biya Christian Penda Ekoka, the charismatic Cameroonian lawyer Michèle Ndoki, and the famous rapper Valsero, known for his texts critical of the government.
Mr. Biya had announced Friday evening through a tweet that he would stop the proceedings against “some” opposition leaders, including those from the MRC, without specifying whether Mr. Kamto was concerned.
President Biya’s announcement came a few hours after the conclusion of the major national dialogue convened to try to put an end to the bloody separatist conflict in the country’s two English-speaking regions.
The day before, the President had already announced the end of the prosecutions and the release of 333 people arrested in connection with this crisis.
Since the beginning of the year, international pressure on Yaoundé to demand a resolution of the crisis in the English-speaking West and to demand Mr. Kamto’s release has intensified.