Friday, October 31, 2008



This April, Cameroon adopted an amendment to its constitution thateliminated term limits for the President, as well as granted him immunityfor any acts committed while in office. No one was smiling more prettilythan President Paul Biya, who at 75 has been in office for 26 years and isseeking re-election in 2011. But one of the country's best-known singers, Lapiro de Mbanga, wasn't happyabout it, so he voiced his disillusion in song. "Constipated Constitution"goes like this: "The head of State is caught in the trap of networks thatoblige him to stay in power even though he is tired… Free Big Katika" (BigKatika is Biya's nickname). Not only is the song banned on some television and radio channels, butMbanga was sentenced to three years in prison last month and doled out aUS$640,000 fine for what International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee(WiPC) says is punishment for his critical lyrics. But the authorities have a different take. They say Mbanga had to pay theprice for taking part in deadly riots in February over the high cost ofliving and the constitutional reform (more than 40 people were killed). Asa local traditional leader and an influential member of the oppositionSocial Democratic Front, his presence galvanised the writers, and for that,he was convicted of complicity in looting, obstructing streets, and formingillegal gatherings. What's more, says WiPC, he was considered an accomplice for filming theevents - a strange accusation, considering that none of the journalistswhose footage was widely televised have been brought to trial. "The charges against Mbanga are widely held to have been made inretaliation for his criticism of the government," says WiPC. "The verdictwas met with stunned silence." Mbanga's wife has denied that he took part in the riots. In comments to AFPnews agency, she said he had actually "calmed people down so that theywouldn't set fire to the city hall" in his hometown. Mbanga's sentence, which came nearly six months after his arrest anddetention, is twice that received by the actual authors of the riots, whowere handed 18-month prison terms the month after the riots andsubsequently received a presidential pardon, says WiPC. Following his conviction, Mbanga was taken, in chains, to Nkongsambaprincipal prison to serve his term. His health has reportedly deterioratedas a result of the six months he has been in detention. Allegedly he hasbeen denied medical attention and the food and sanitary conditions inprison are poor. WiPC and Freemuse, a free expression organisation for musicians andcomposers, are appealing to President Biya to release Mbanga now. You canwrite to the authorities too. Details are on the WiPC website:
source: International PEN

Please send appeals
Protesting the three-year prison sentence and US$640,000 fine imposed on the singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots;
Expressing the belief that that Mbanga's detention since April and subsequent conviction stem from his lyrics critical of the government, particularly a song he wrote criticising controversial constitutional amendments, in violation of his right to freedom of expression (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 release him immediately and unconditionally;
Expressing concern that Mbanga's health has deteriorated due to poor prison conditions, and requesting that he be treated humanely while in detention including being provided with adequate medical care.
Send your appeals to:
President President Paul BiyaFax: +237 22 22 08 70cellcom@prc.cmMessages may also be sent via the Presidency's website:
Minister of JusticeMr. Amadou AliDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Fax: +237 22 23 00 05
And/ or via Cameroonian diplomatic representatives in your country.
***Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 20 November 2008.***
For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email:

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