Songwriter Detained for Lyrics
International PEN protests the four-month detention of the well-known singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo), reportedly for a song he wrote criticizing controversial constitutional amendments in Cameroon. PEN fears that Mbanga’s detention is thereby in violation of his right to freedom of expression. PEN is also concerned about reports that his health has deteriorated due to poor prison conditions and lack of adequate medical care. PEN calls on the Cameroonian authorities to substantiate the charges against Mbanga or to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Mbanga, 51, was arrested in Mbanga City on April 9, 2008, and accused of instigating mass demonstrations and strikes against the high cost of living, which took place at the end of February. However, according to the Media Foundation for Western Africa and local press reports, his arrest was linked to a song he wrote, entitled “Constipated Constitution,” which warns President Biya of the dangers of controversial constitutional amendments. The Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was adopted on April 10, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates (President Biya is 75 and has been in office for 26 years) and grants the president immunity for any acts committed while in office. Mbanga has often sung about government corruption and is also known as a member of the Social Democratic Front.
Mbanga was detained at Mbanga Principal Prison and later transferred to Nkongsamba principal prison for trial. On July 9, 2008, three months after his arrest, the singer-songwriter appeared at Nkongsamba High Court and was formally charged with inciting youths to riot during the February strike and causing property damage. He appeared in court in shackles.
The singer-songwriter’s health has reportedly deteriorated as a result of his imprisonment. He is said to have developed chronic back pain and a chest infection and to have lost 20 kg since his arrest. He has reportedly been denied medical attention. According to his wife, the food and sanitary conditions in prison are very poor.
On July 23, Mbanga pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. According to local news reports, conflicting evidence was given as to whether the artist had instigated the demonstrations and destruction of property or had intervened to prevent them both from happening. Following a hearing on July 30, Mbanga was remanded in custody and the trial was adjourned until August 27. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
Earlier this year, another Cameroonian singer-songwriter who wrote a song criticizing the constitutional amendments, Joe La Conscience, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for organizing an allegedly illegal demonstration. He was released in June following a presidential pardon. More than 100 people arrested during the riots have reportedly now been pardoned.
Write A Letter
- Protesting the arrest and four-month detention of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) on charges of instigating public demonstrations;
- Expressing concern that Mbanga’s arrest and detention may be related to a song he wrote criticizing constitutional amendments, in violation of his right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is party;
- Calling on the authorities to substantiate the charges against Mbanga or to release him immediately and unconditionally;
- Voicing concern that Mbanga’s health has deteriorated due to poor prison conditions, and requesting that he be treated humanely while in detention and provided with adequate medical care.
Send Your Letter To
President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70
Minister of Justice
Mr. Amadou Ali
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice
Fax: +237 22 23 00 05
Please copy your letter to the diplomatic representatives of Cameroon in your country.
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after September 6, 2008.