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Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum in France on Nov. 12, 2019. Biya’s regime has detained or imprisoned a growing number of human-rights activists and opposition supporters in recent years,CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters

One of Africa’s best-known tech entrepreneurs has been arrested in Cameroon, provoking a storm of global criticism over human-rights abuses in one of Africa’s most entrenched dictatorships.

Rebecca Enonchong, an investor in African tech startups and board chair of the AfriLabs network of innovation hubs, spent a third night in police custody in the city of Douala on Thursday after her arrest this week on accusations that remain unclear.

Ms. Enonchong, 54, was reportedly accused of contempt of court, but no formal charges have been filed against her.

“This is a blatant disregard for the rule of law,” AfriLabs said in an online petition calling for her release.

Over her 20-year career, Ms. Enonchong has been hailed by groups such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum as one of Africa’s most influential entrepreneurs. Based in the United States, she also has corporate offices in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa. Last year, Forbes magazine listed her as one of the 50 most powerful women in Africa.

Ms. Enonchong has repeatedly criticized Cameroon’s authorities for alleged corruption and repressive actions, which many analysts believe was a factor in her arrest.

Cameroon has been dominated by one man, President Paul Biya, for the past 39 years. The 88-year-old autocrat is sometimes described as the world’s longest-ruling non-royal leader.

Mr. Biya’s regime, facing pressure for political reform after allegedly rigged elections, has detained or imprisoned a growing number of human-rights activists and opposition supporters in recent years, sometimes on disproven charges of treason or terrorism.

Western diplomats, including Canada’s high commission in Cameroon, tweeted their support for Ms. Enonchong with the #FreeRebecca hashtag.

“Canada expresses its strong concern about the signal sent to foreign investors and technology partners by Rebecca Enonchong’s arbitrary detention,” the high commission said in a Facebook message on Thursday.

Ms. Enonchong had been working to nurture talent and investment in Cameroon’s technology sector, which has “huge potential to create jobs and wealth,” the high commission said in its post.

The arrest has sparked controversy in Cameroon and internationally, with thousands sharing the #FreeRebecca hashtag on Twitter. Her case led to front-page headlines in major English- and French-language newspapers in Cameroon this week.

Richard Tamfu, a Cameroonian human-rights lawyer, said Ms. Enonchong was arrested without a summons or formal arrest warrant. Her illegal detention is a sign that Cameroon’s government is a “dictatorial regime,” he told The Globe and Mail on Thursday.

“Cameroonian authorities continue to infringe on the civil and political rights of its citizens on a daily basis,” he said. “The situation is worsening and no one is safe any more. Cameroonians live in fear from expressing their rights, as their freedom is no longer guaranteed.”

Ms. Enonchong was one of 20 women leaders from Cameroon who signed a letter to the International Monetary Fund in June, opposing a proposed new extension of credit to the Cameroonian government until a proper accounting of previous misuse of IMF funds takes place.

The signees pointed to corruption and embezzlement scandals in Cameroon and a continuing violent conflict with regional separatists. “The facts lead us to believe that IMF loans, which will be reimbursed by Cameroonian citizens, are being embezzled and used to buy weapons,” they wrote.

Despite the opposition, the IMF went ahead with the approval of a US$690-million credit facility for Cameroon late last month.

“Many of the women who signed that letter faced all sorts of personal attacks in the media and direct intimidation,” said Chris Roberts, a University of Calgary political science instructor who specializes in Cameroon.

“Now that the IMF loans have been approved, the government is free to target these women more directly,” he told The Globe.

The arrest of Ms. Enonchong is far from an isolated case, according to Ilaria Allegrozzi, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Arbitrary arrest and detention has become widespread in Cameroon, with hundreds of opposition supporters and protesters arrested by security forces and some still behind bars on politically motivated charges, she said on Twitter this week.

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