(New York, NY) – PEN America and its Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) program will closely monitor the upcoming trial of Cameroonian rapper Gaston Serval Abe, better known as Valsero. Arrested earlier this year in the vicinity of a pro-democracy demonstration, Valsero will appear before a military court October 8 and could face the death penalty. He’s falsely charged with rebellion against the state, terrorism, insurrection, inciting public disorder, and propagating false information. 

PEN America has called his persecution an “inexcusable violation of artistic freedom of expression,” and says the charges must be dropped immediately. Julie Trébault, director of ARC at PEN America, is available for interviews in both English and French before and after the trial. She has been working with artists and allies of Valsero both in Cameroon and globally to call for his unconditional release. To request an interview, contact Stephen Fee, PEN America’s director of communications, at sfee@pen.org.

PEN America says Valsero is being persecuted for his work, which often includes political themes. Songs like “Çe pays tue les jeunes” (“This country kills the youth”), “Ne me parlez plus de ce pays” (“Don’t talk about this country to me anymore”),  and the well-known “Lettre au president” (“Letter to the President”) have earned both the ire of the government and admiration of fans across Cameroon. Many of his new songs reference current crises in Cameroon and the current government, in power for nearly four decades. 

Valsero was arrested on January 26 in Yaoundé on the margins of a peaceful demonstration protesting last year’s national elections, which many deemed to be rigged in support of the current president, Paul Biya. Maurice Kamto, the opposition leader, had organized marches all over the country on that day, but the protestors were met with widespread police suppression, and both Kamto and Valsero were detained. Valsero is not a member of the opposition party. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892