The international legal team for Lapiro de Mbanga on June 16 filed an urgent action petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of the Cameroonian singer-songwriter and democracy activist. The legal team hopes to obtain an opinion from the Working Group that the Cameroonian government’s detention of Mr. Mbanga is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mr. Mbanga is currently held at New Bell prison, also known as “hell on earth”, notorious for its unbearable, unsanitary conditions.
Freedom Now and the international law firm Wilmer Hale are working pro bono to help free Lapiro de Mbanga. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, visited Cameroon on 10 June 2010. According to local media he discussed Lapiro’s case with President Paul Biya.
Supports football team but persecutes artists
“Lapiro’s case can no longer be ignored by the President of Cameroon. The country supports its football players – and should do so. But the country continues to persecute its artists. Imagine how the world would react if Cameroon had imprisoned Samuel Eto’o, the great football player? Cameroon should be proud of singers such as Lapiro de Mbanga, not detain them,” says Ole Reitov, Programme Manager, Freemuse.
Last year Lapiro de Mbanga was nominated by Freemuse to the Freedom to Create Prize. Winning the prize the singer followed the prize ceremony in London from his prison cell via a cell phone. Freemuse in collaboration with Freedom Now, International Pen, Mondomix and Vigier Guitars has been campaigning for the release of Lapiro since the past two years.
Appeal to Supreme Court ignored
On September 24, 2008, Mr. Mbanga was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of FCFA 280 million (approx. $600,000). Although the trial against Mr. Mbanga was riddled with due process violations, the Appeal Court upheld his conviction and increased the fine. Mr. Mbanga’s appeal to the Supreme Court has thus far been ignored.
In a press statement Freedom Now says:
“The Cameroonian government has detained Mr. Mbanga since April 9, 2008, in violation of both Cameroonian and international law. Mr. Mbanga was accused of encouraging and participating in the mass demonstrations and strikes, which paralyzed the country in February 2008. The Cameroonian government formally charged Mr. Mbanga with “complicity in looting, destruction of property, arson, obstructing streets, degrading public or classified property, and forming illegal gatherings.” In reality, Mr. Mbanga never engaged in any such conduct, and these charges were immediately dismissed by observers as politically motivated and made in retaliation for Mr. Mbanga’s frequent criticism of the government.”
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Cameroon: Lapiro de Mbanga’s legal team files petition to United Nations