April 23, 2010

President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70

Mr. Philemon Yang
Prime Minister
Fax: +237 22 23 57 35

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the continued imprisonment of singer and songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) and journalist Lewis Medjo.

According to our information, more than two years after his arrest and detention, Mbanga’s appeal is still pending before the Supreme Court in the capital Yaoundé after being subjected to numerous delays. He was formally charged with “complicity in looting, destruction of property, arson, obstructing streets, degrading public or classified property, and forming illegal gatherings,” allegedly for taking part in anti-government riots. These charges are widely considered to be politically motivated and are believed to have been fabricated in retaliation for his frequent criticism of the government. Mr. Mbanga was sentenced to three years in prison on September 24, 2008.

Mbanga is currently held at New Bell prison, where conditions are very poor. The songwriter is housed in a cell with 36 other inmates. Among those sharing the cell is Lewis Medjo, journalist and publisher of the Douala weekly newspaper Détente Libre, who was jailed in September 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison for “publishing false news” about President Biya.

Both Mbanga and Medjo have suffered from ill health since their imprisonment and have unsuccessfully sought release on humanitarian grounds. Medjo is said to have numerous health problems and has lost a significant amount of weight, yet has limited access to medical attention. Since being detained, Mbanga’s health is deteriorating rapidly due to poor sanitary conditions in the prison.

PEN American Center believes that Lapiro de Mbanga and Lewis Medjo’s convictions stem from their critical writings—in Mbanga’s case from a song he wrote criticizing controversial constitutional amendments—in violation of their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is a signatory. Therefore, we call on Cameroonian authorities to release Lapiro de Mbanga and Lewis Medjo immediately and unconditionally. 

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                 

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs
CC: H. E. Ambassador Joseph Charles Foe-Atangana
Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon
2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Fax: (202) 387-3826

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