Cameroon: Appeal for songwriter detained for his lyrics

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Cameroon:
Appeal for songwriter detained for his lyrics

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN and Freemuse protests the four-month detention of the well known singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga.

International Pen Writers in Prison Committee’s Rapid Action Network sent the following appeal on 7 august 2008:

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN protests the four-month detention of the well known singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo), reportedly for a song he wrote criticising controversial constitutional amendments in Cameroon. The WiPC fears that Mbanga’s detention stems from his critical lyrics, and is therefore in violation of his right to freedom of expression. It is also concerned at reports that his health has deteriorated due to poor prison conditions and lack of adequate medical care. The WiPC calls on the Cameroonian authorities to substantiate the charges against Mbanga or to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Mbanga (51) was arrested in Mbanga City on 9 April 2008, accused of instigating mass demonstrations and strikes against the high cost of living which took place at the end of February. However, according to the Media Foundation for Western Africa and local press reports, his arrest was in fact linked to a song he wrote entitled “Constipated Constitution” which warns President Biya of the dangers of controversial constitutional amendments. The Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was adopted on 10 April, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates (President Biya is 75 and has been in office for 26 years), as well as granting the president immunity for any acts committed while in office. Mbanga has often sung about government corruption and is also known as a member of the opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF).

Mbanga was detained at Mbanga Principal Prison and later transferred to Nkongsamba principal prison for trial. On 9 July 2008, three months after his arrest, the singer-songwriter appeared at Nkongsamba High Court and was formally charged with inciting youths to riot during the February strike action and of causing damage to property belonging to a company. He appeared in court in shackles.

The singer-songwriter’s health has reportedly deteriorated as a result of his imprisonment: he is said to have developed chronic back pain and a chest infection and to have lost 20kg in weight since his arrest. He has reportedly been denied medical attention. According to his wife, the food and sanitary conditions in prison are very poor.

On 23 July, Mbanga pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. According to local news reports, conflicting evidence was given as to whether the artist had instigated the demonstrations and destruction of property or had in fact intervened to prevent them from taking place. Following a further hearing on 30 July, Lapiro was remanded in custody and the trial was adjourned to 27 August. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

Earlier this year, another Cameroonian singer-songwriter who wrote a song criticising the constitutional amendments, Joe La Conscience, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for organising an allegedly illegal demonstration, but was released in June following a presidential pardon. More than 100 people arrested during the riots have reportedly now been pardoned.

Background
· MFWA report (English)MFWA report (French)

· Freemuse report (includes a video clip from one of Mbanga’s other songs, ‘Prison’, where he calls on calls all embezzlers of state funds to be sent to prison) (English)

· BBC report (English)

· An extract from Mbanga’s song “Constipated Constitution”:

    “Le Chef de l’Etat est pris au piège des réseaux
    qui l’obligent à rester au pouvoir alors qu’il est fatigué…
    Libérez le Big katika”

    (The head of State is caught in the trap of networks
    that oblige him to stay in power even though he is tired…
    Free Big katika [President Biya’s nickname] ).

    The song is banned on some tv and radio channels.

Please send appeals
· Protesting the arrest and four-month detention of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) on charges of instigating public demonstrations. The WiPC fears that Mbanga’s arrest and detention may in fact stem from a song he wrote criticising controversial constitutional amendments, in violation of his right to freedom of expression (guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is party);

· Calling on the authorities to substantiate the charges against Mbanga or to release him immediately and unconditionally;

· Expressing concern that Mbanga’s health has deteriorated due to poor prison conditions, and requesting that he be treated humanely while in detention including being provided with adequate medical care.

Send your appeals to:

President
President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70
cellcom@prc.cm
Messages may also be sent via the Presidency’s website: http://www.prc.cm/index_fr.php?link=messenger/write_pr

Minister of Justice
Mr. Amadou Ali
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice
Fax: +237 22 23 00 05

And/ or via Cameroonian diplomatic representatives in your country.

*** Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 6 September 2008. ***

For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339, email: tamsin.mitchell [A] internationalpen.org.uk


Lapiro de Mbanga chained together with the mayor of Njombé Penja, Kingué, who is a member of RDPC, a government political party of the president Paul Biya. The prisoners are walking to the court by foot from the prison of Nkongsamba. (Photo: courtesy of Issa Nyaphaga).

 




Lapiro de Mbanga

Photo: Yolande Tankeu, Camer.be




Cameroon


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