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» 16.04.2010 - How many million Cameroonians?
» 03.03.2010 - Cameroonian journos tortured
» 18.11.2009 - Nigerian fishermen flee Bakassi Peninsula
» 16.10.2009 - Chad expels Cameroon editor
» 12.08.2009 - Cameroon’s Etinde permit gets possible farm-in deal
» 22.07.2009 - Four hostages freed in Cameroon
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» 15.06.2009 - UN to work Bakassi resettlement programme

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Politics | Society | Human rights | Culture - Arts

Cameroonian songbird jailed for rioting

afrol News, 10 October - Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) has condemned three-year prison sentence and excessive fine imposed on well-known Cameroonian singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (real name Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) who was arrested earlier this year for allegedly being part of anti-government demonstrations.

Incarcerated songwriter who is also a member of an opposition party is said to be outspoken critic of Cameroon government.

In a press statement issued by WIPC today, writers group has expressed its concern that sentence is connected to Mr Mbanga's critical lyrics and, as such, is in violation of his right to freedom of expression.

Body has thus called on Cameroonian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Statement indicates that on 24 September, almost six months after his arrest and detention, Mr Mbanga, 51, was found guilty of taking part in riots against high cost of living in Cameroon in February and sentenced to three years in prison.

According to report, songwriter was convicted of three of six charges against him, 'complicity in looting, destruction of property, arson, obstructing streets, degrading public or classified property, and forming illegal gatherings'.

He was also ordered to pay a fine of about US$640,000 to Société des Plantations de Mbanga (SPM) company and ministry of finance as compensation for damage caused during riots, it says.

Charges against Mr Mbanga are widely held to have been made in retaliation for his criticism of government. Verdict was met with stunned silence, according to another press report.

Government has however denied WiPC's claims that case is politically motivated.

Mr Mbanga has been detained since his arrest on 9 April.

However, some reports have indicated that his presence during protests was merely a pretext, and his arrest was in fact linked to a song he wrote entitled "Constipated Constitution" which warns president Biya of dangers of controversial constitutional amendments.

Mr Mbanga's wife has reportedly denied that he took part in riots and maintained that he had actually calmed people down and prevented them from burning down Mbanga town hall. Some evidence to this effect was reportedly presented in court during his trial, but fell off.

Mr Mbanga was reportedly convicted on grounds that, as a local traditional leader, his presence during protests had fired up rioters.

It was further argued that he would not have been allowed to film events, as he did, had he been an outsider, report says. This therefore made him an accomplice.

However, according to local press reports, riots were widely televised and none of journalists who filmed footage have been brought to trial.

Moreover, Mr Mbanga's sentence, almost six months after events in question, is said to be twice that received by actual authors of riots, who were reportedly handed 18-month prison terms month after riots and subsequently received a presidential pardon.

Following his conviction, Mr Mbanga was reportedly taken in chains, to Nkongsamba principal prison to serve his term. His health is said to have deteriorated as a result of six months he has already spent there.

It is said that he has been denied medical attention and food and that sanitary conditions in prison are poor.

Mr Mbanga's defence is appealing verdict.

He has often sung about government corruption and is also known as a member of Social Democratic Front (SDF) opposition party. More than 100 people arrested during riots have reportedly now been pardoned.

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