Cameroon: Songwriter detained for lyrics

***UPDATE: English PEN strongly protests the three-year prison sentence and exorbitant fine imposed on the well known singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) on 24 September 2008 for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots. For more information, please click here.


English PEN protests the four-month detention of the well known singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo), reportedly for a song he wrote criticising controversial constitutional amendments in Cameroon.


Lapiro de Mbanga was arrested in Mbanga City on 9 April 2008, 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 (MFWA) and local press reports, his arrest was in fact 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 10 April, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates (President Biya is 75 and has been in office for 26 years), as well as granting 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 opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF).


Mbanga was detained at Mbanga Principal Prison and later transferred to Nkongsamba principal prison for trial. On 9 July 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 action and of causing damage to property belonging to a company. 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 20kg in weight since his arrest. He has reportedly been denied medical attention and the food and sanitary conditions in prison are reportedly very poor.

On 23 July, 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 in fact intervened to prevent them from taking place. Following a further hearing on 30 July, Lapiro was remanded in custody and the trial was adjourned to 27 August. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted. English PEN is therefore calling on the Cameroonian authorities to substantiate the charges against Mbanga or to release him immediately and unconditionally.


Earlier this year, another Cameroonian singer-songwriter who wrote a song criticising the constitutional amendments, Joe La Conscience, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for organising an allegedly illegal demonstration, but was released in June following a presidential pardon. More than 100 people arrested during the riots have reportedly now been pardoned.


Please send appeals:


• Protesting the arrest and four-month detention of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga on charges of instigating public demonstrations.
. Expressing fears that Mbanga’s arrest and detention stems from from his critical lyrics, and is therefore in violation of his right to freedom of expression as  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; 
• 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.
Appeals to:


President Paul Biya
Fax: 237 22 22 08 70

Messages may also be sent via the Presidency’s website:
Minister of Justice
Mr. Amadou Ali
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice 
Fax: 237 22 23 00 05


It may be more effective, however, to send appeal letters via the Cameroonian Embassy in the UK:


His Excellency Ekaney Nkwelle

84 Holland Park
W11 3SB
Fax: 44 (0)20 7792 9353
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