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One musician arrested, another sentenced to six months' imprisonment for criticising constitutional amendments

(MFWA/IFEX) - Two renowned musicians, Lapiro de Mbanga and Joe La Conscience have been arrested and detained by the authorities in Cameroon for singing songs in which they criticised the recent controversial constitutional amendments which allow the President unlimited terms of office.

The two were arrested respectively on 9 April and 20 March 2008.

Mbanga, a known member of the opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF), was summoned and subsequently arrested by the gendarmerie of Mbanga City. According to sources in Cameroon, he was accused of instigating the mass demonstrations against the high cost of living which took place at the end of February.

The sources report that Mbanga's arrest was linked to a song he wrote entitled "Constipated Constitution" which warns President Paul Biya of the dangers that the amendments could create.

La Conscience, who also wrote a song condemning the amendments of the Constitution, was convicted to six months' imprisonment for an alleged illegal demonstration.

When prevented to carry through a march he had planned against the amendments, La Conscience arranged a sit-in at the US Embassy in Yaoundé. This was deemed unlawful by the Cameroon authorities who subsequently arrested him.

The Constitutional Amendment Bill was adopted by the National Assembly in Cameroon on 10 April. The amendment allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates, which according to critics empowers President Paul Biya to continue to rule for life.

The amendments also grant immunity to the President for any acts committed by him during his time in office.

The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO) is deeply concerned about the repression of artistic expression in particular and free expression in general in Cameroon. We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Lapiro de Mbanga and Joe La Conscience.

We encourage supporters of free expression to send letters of protest and demand the release of the two musicians to the nearest Cameroonian embassy.

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