Cameroon: Interview with human rights advocate about Lapiro’s case


03 July 2009

Interview with human rights advocate about Lapiro’s case

Dr Hilaire Kamga is president of NHRC, New Human Rights Cameroon. He says: “This was an unfair trial. Now there must be lobbying actions.”

By Jen Bell, Freemuse’s correspondent in Cameroon

Freemuse: What are your impressions, now after Lapiro’s judgement?

Hilaire Kamga: These were everything but normal proceedings. These were political proceedings. As we used to say, since the beginning of this incident: Lapiro’s case is used to warn people that they should not try to initiate any political demonstration in Cameroon. And it is intentionally, in the sense that the alternation for 2011 presidential election is in preparation. For that reason, some groups are trying to organise themselves in headquarters to succeed to Mr Biya, the President of the Republic. They know very well that people will not accept them and that the only way for them to express themselves will be to make public demonstrations. So, absolutely, authorities are trying to gather all necessary conditions to avoid demonstrations and to create fear among people who would like to follow leaders in streets.
Unfortunately, Lapiro has been chosen as a symbol of a leader who has tried to demonstrate with people and who is now in prison with a high fine which is impossible for him to pay. So, his sentence is not only dissuasive concerning his loss of freedom, but also concerning the amount he is to pay. We all know that Lapiro de Mbanga’s income can not afford him paying such money – more than FCFA 280 millions. Of course, there is annulment, but it must be more than that to prevent a citizen to have access to the power alternation. In my opinion, those in power made a bad choice.

Is there any solution as to how to free Lapiro?

The first thing to do is to work on the legal ground. But this will not be efficient without pressure. In the legal plan, it is an appeal decision. The other way is annulment, and for it to lead to something there must be lobbying actions to make understand that it is not in the interest of Mr Biya to keep Lapiro in prison. It can be on interests of certain unknown groups who want to confiscate the alternation. Surely it is not on the interest of Mr Biya. And by addressing to Mr Biya who should understand the stakes, he will certainly leave the procedure be the real legal one after the annulment.

What actions are undertaken by New Human Rights Cameroon?

What we have to do is to accelerate and to support the annulment procedure, and to initiate and to accompany all the campaigns that can have influence on decision makers, to have a real balance of power. That is what we will do after this new court decision. We have tried to create pressure so that the appeal judges would come to their senses. It gave nothing. Now we have to accelerate, and to focus our action on the President of the Republic himself who can be considered as an example of our interests as he is at the end of his reign over the country.
Not only because his reign over the country is going to the end, but also because he is at the end of his life. In 2011, he will be 79 years old. Surely, he will have some more years to live. But will it be good for him to leave a bad image? That is why we have to work on him for a new lobbying. New Human Rights Cameroon will join all citizen initiatives, national and international, leading to quash Lapiro’s last sentence and to make the decision to be legal and not political.

Comment by Fajong Joseph:
“It was a nation-wide issue and not an issue that started in Mbanga”

“Lapiro de Mbanga is a well-known artist in Cameroon. He is also a politician belonging to the Social Democratic Front, an opposition party. In 2007, he went into the municipal election in his area in Mbanga. And just after that, we had the unfortunate event in Cameroon, the February crisis of 2008. And in like any other nation-wide event, it happened in Mbanga and the Cameroon government thought that Lapiro de Mbanga had to galvanise, to gather all youths in Mbanga to go to the streets to do whatever they did.
But I strongly believe that if something is a nation-wide problem, I don’t think it was an idea of Lapiro de Mbanga to initiate that strike. So first of all; I would like to strongly disagree with the judgement that has been given: three years jail and an excessive fine. It is true that he has been very critical to the government through his sons and others actions, but I don’t think that Lapiro de Mbanga gathered youths in Mbanga strike. It was a nation-wide issue and not an issue that started in Mbanga”.

Joseph Fajong is a journalist working for Ariane TV, a private tv broadcaster in Cameroon

Hilaire Kamga in Yaounde

Photo by Jen Bell

Fajong Joseph

Photo by Jen Bell

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