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Cameroon: Why the charges against rapper Valsero set an alarming tone for artists globally

19 September 2019
Valsero standing facing left
Image: General Valsero / Facebook

 

UPDATE: After nine months of detention, Valsero has been released from detention according to PEN America

The news that the CRM members would be released was announced via Cameroonian President Paul Biya’s Twitter account. 

Freemuse joins the global human rights community in welcoming the artist’s release. 

 

 

The latest court date for Cameroonian rapper Valsero has been postponed until 8 October 2019. The artist (given name Gaston Serval Abe) was arrested for his attendance at the so-called ‘White Marches’ peaceful demonstration event in the country’s capital Yaoundé on 26 January 2019. He has been detained in Yaoundé Principal Prison since his arrest according to Music Africa.

According to Amnesty International, the rapper has since been charged with eight offences including insurrection, incitement to insurrection, group rebellion, criminal association, complicity, riotous assembly, disturbance of public order and hostility to the homeland.

These charges amount to the possibility of the death penalty.

The demonstrations were in support of Cameroon’s opposition party, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) and MRC leader Professor Maurice Kamto, who was also arrested and detained two days after the protest.

According to PEN America and PEN England, the artist has been accused of being critical of government authorities in his music and supporting the opposition leader and the movement.

Music Africa reports that the rapper was not even a part of the protests at the time of his arrest and was instead collecting his daughter from the French Institute of Yaoundé. According to an Africa Radio quote cited in the publication, Valsero had only attended the gathering to spread his message of peaceful protest and anti-violent demonstration.

“Valsero was not part of the demonstrations but only met the protesters before the march. He held a 10-minute speech about his Make Sense Not War campaign to sensitise participants and security forces to remain non-violent,” Music Africa quote Africa Radio presenter Laurene Lepeytre.

According to France 24, the MRC reported that approximately 200 people were arrested at various MRC protests, with Cameroonian authorities stating that 147 people were being detained awaiting trial.

The international arts and music community have called out this incident as the latest in an alarming trend of government authorities targeting musicians and artists who are critical of the state.

“Governments from all over the world are coming up with new forms of repression against musicians and their work. I urge African artists not be intimidated and instead keep being the voice of the people just like Valsero,” said Congolese rapper and activist Martial Pa’nucci to Music Africa.

Freemuse research acknowledges this trend which attempts to silence artists – especially those with high profiles – through arbitrary detentions and other harsh means.

Freemuse condemns the misuse of state legislation to silence criticisms of authoritarian governments and joins the global community in calling for the release of Valsero.

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