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Update: (from the International Pen Writers in Prison Committee)
On 24 September, almost six months after his arrest and detention, Mbanga (51) was found guilty of taking part in riots against the high cost of living in Cameroon (see below) in February 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison. The songwriter was convicted of three of the six charges against him: ￼“complicity in looting, destruction of property, arson, obstructing streets, degrading the public or classified property, and forming illegal gatherings”. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 280 CFA francs (US$640,000) payable to the company Société des Plantations de Mbanga (SPM) and the Ministry of Finance as compensation for damage caused during the riots. The charges against Mbanga are widely held to have been made in retaliation for his criticism of the government. The verdict was met with a stunned silence, according to one press report.
The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN 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. Mbanga is known as an outspoken critic of the government, both as a songwriter and an opposition party member. The WiPC fears that the sentence is connected to his critical lyrics and, as such, in violation of his right to freedom of expression. It calls on the Cameroonian authorities to release Mbanga immediately and unconditionally.
Lapiro Mbanga, a singer/songwriter from Cameroon, was arrested in Mbanga City on April 9, 2008. The official charge against him, which wasn’t determined until July, is of instigating mass demonstrations that occurred in February.
However, international organizations believe his arrest is directly related to a song he wrote called “Constipated Constitution”. The song lyrics criticize new constitutional amendments, including one of which grants the president immunity for criminal acts committed while in office.
Over one hundred people were arrested in connection with the February riots have been pardoned. Many people died in the February riots and the testimony of some witnesses indicate that Mbanga attempted to save both lives and property. Mbanga remains in prison awaiting a trial, already adjourned once, scheduled to begin at the end of August**. If found guilty, Mbanga faces up to two years in prison.
According to PEN’s sources, Mbanga is reportedly being kept in unsanitary conditions and denied medical treatment. He has lost over 20 kilos since his arrest and is suffering from a chest infection.
International human rights organizations are calling for the release of Mbanga.
Freedom of expression is a human right—expression through music and lyrics is powerful. Let’s stand behind Mbanga’s right to sing about governmental ailments, intestinal or otherwise.
**update 01.October: Mbanga's trial has been adjourned and he remains in prison. There is no news regard a change in the prison conditions or his health.
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