Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two years on, songwriter remains imprisoned

(WiPC/IFEX) - IFEX ALERT - The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN protests the continuing imprisonment of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name: Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo), whose final appeal has still not been heard despite having served more than two years in jail.

Detained on 9 April 2008, Mbanga was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2008 for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots. However, the WiPC believes that Mbanga, who is known as an outspoken critic of the Cameroonian government both as a songwriter and an opposition party member, is being punished for his critical views, in violation of his freedom of expression.

The WiPC calls on the Cameroonian authorities to release Mbanga and journalist Lewis Medjo, who is also serving a three-year prison sentence, immediately and unconditionally.

More than two years after his arrest and detention, Mbanga's appeal is still pending before the Supreme Court in the capital Yaoundé, following numerous delays. In March, the Independent Commission against Corruption and Discrimination (COMICODI) reportedly wrote to President Biya asking for a pardon for Mbanga and another political prisoner on the basis of numerous irregularities in their trials.

However, Mbanga said that he would reject a presidential pardon were it offered to him, preferring to wait for his appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court. A group of US lawyers working with Freedom are now preparing to submit Mbanga's case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Mbanga is detained at New Bell prison, Douala, where conditions are reportedly very poor. The songwriter is housed in a cell with 36 other inmates. Among those sharing the cell is Lewis Medjo, journalist and publisher of the Douala weekly newspaper "Détente Libre", who was jailed in September 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison for "publishing false news" about President Biya. Both Mbanga and Medjo have suffered from ill health since their imprisonment and have unsuccessfully sought release on humanitarian grounds. Medjo is said to have numerous health problems and has lost a significant amount of weight, yet has limited access to medical attention.

Ill health/deteriorating health
Lapiro de Mbanga (Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo), Artist

In November 2009, Mbanga was one of five cases highlighted for the WiPC's annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The same month, he was also awarded the Freedom to Create Imprisoned Artist Prize.

Please send appeals:
- protesting the continuing imprisonment of the singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) and of journalist Lewis Medjo, both detained in 2008 and serving three-year prison sentences for, respectively, taking part in anti-government riots and “publishing false news”;
- expressing the belief that that Mbanga and Medjo’s convictions stem from their critical writings - in Mbanga’s case from a song he wrote criticising controversial constitutional amendments - in violation of their 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);
- expressing concern that Mbanga’s Supreme Court appeal has been subject to numerous delays and is still pending;
- also expressing concern at reports that Mbanga and Medjo’s health have deteriorated due to poor prison conditions and that Medjo in particular reportedly has only limited access to medical treatment;
- calling on the authorities to release both Mbanga and Medjo immediately and unconditionally.

President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70
Messages may also be sent via the Presidency's website:

Mr. Philemon Yang, Prime Minister
Fax: +237 22 23 57 35

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Cameroon in your country if possible. Details of some Cameroonian embassies can be seen here:

Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 21 June 2010.

International PEN Writers in Prison Committee
Brownlow House
50-51 High Holborn
London WC1V 6ER
United Kingdom
wipc (@)
Phone: +44 20 74050338
Fax: +44 20 74050339

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