Police in Cameroon clashed with Muslims on Friday after they refused to adhere to lockdown measures in response to the Chinese coronavirus to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, Voice of America (VOA) reports.
In a statement, police said they were forced to disperse Muslims gathering in 13 mosques in the country’s West, Center, and Far North regions, attending Friday prayers to begin the Ramadan fasting period.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned under measures imposed by the government this month aimed at containing the spread of the virus. Anyone venturing outside must wear protective face masks. Those not following the rules are subject to fines and sanctions.
Awah Fonka, governor of the western region of Cameroon, said he asked security forces to forcibly remove those ignoring government orders and “not spare anyone” who continues to disobey. According to police, some in the crowd were actively targeting people in some of Cameroon’s hardest-hit towns and villages, with some 175 people complaining that they were targeted or chased from their villages.
Police in Cameroon are not the only authorities struggling to keep some Muslims from practicing their faith at this important time in the Islamic calendar. Most imams have asked people to stay indoors, yet some hardliners have urged their followers to ignore lockdown measures in order to prioritize the observation of Ramadan and other religious practices.
Ramadan, which began on Thursday, requires Muslims to fast and pray at mosques during the daylight hours before holding feasts with family and friends at sundown. The large crowds that ensue create ripe conditions for the virus to spread, and so most governments have ordered people to stay home.
Elsewhere in Africa, Islamist terror organization Boko Haram has taken advantage of the lockdowns by increasing attacks across territories in both Cameroon and Nigeria. This month, the organization killed at least ten people in a suicide bombing in Blama Kamsoulou, a northern village of Cameroon close to the country’s border with Nigeria.
Cameroon remains the West African country hardest hit by the ongoing pandemic, reporting 1,430 cases nationwide and 43 deaths. At least 668 people have already made a full recovery.